Saturday, December 30, 2017

Tech regressions: MORE, Quicken, PalmOS, iOS, Podcasts, Aperture, Music, iPad photo slide shows, and toasters.

One of the odder experiences of aging is living through technology regressions. I’ve seen a few — solutions that go away and are never replaced.

Symantec’s classicMac MORE 3.1 was a great outliner/editing tool with the best style sheet implementation I’ve seen. It died around 1991. The closest thing today would be Omni Outliner — 16 years later. There’s still no comparable Style Sheet support.

Quicken for DOS with 3.5” monthly diskette records of credit card transactions was the most reliable and useable personal accounting tool I’ve experienced — though even it had problems with database corruption. I think that was the 1980s. Today I use Quicken for Mac, a niche product with unreliable transfer of financial information, questionable data security, and limited investment tools.

PalmOS Datebk 5 was an excellent calendaring tool with good desktop sync (for a while the Mac had the best ‘personal information management’ companion). That was in the 1990s. When PalmOS died we went years without an alternative. I briefly returned to using a Franklin Planner. Somewhere around year 3 of iOS we had equivalent functionality again — and a very painful transition.

iOS and macOS have seen particularly painful combinations of progressions and regressions. OS X / macOS photo management was at its best somewhere around the end of Snow Leopard and Aperture 3.1 (memory fuzzy, not sure they overlapped). OS X photo solutions had finally reached a good state after years of iPhoto screw-ups — the professional and home products more or less interoperated. All Apple needed to do was polish Aperture’s rough edges and fix bugs. Instead they sunset Aperture and gave us — a big functional regression. Apple did something similar with iMovie; it’s much harder to make home “movies” than it once was.

iOS was at its most reliable around version 6. So Apple blew it up. Since that time has gone from great to bad to not-so-bad to abysmal. The iPad used to have a great digital picture frame capability tied to screen lock — Apple took that away. For a while there was a 3rd party app that worked with iCloud photo streams, I could remotely add images to my father’s iPad slideshow digital picture frame. There’s nothing that works as well now; as I write this I’m working through a web of bugs and incompetence (I suspect a desperate timeout stuck into iTunes/iOS sync) to sneak some photos from Aperture to an iPad.

Apple Music is following the path of as Apple moves to ending the sale of music (probably 2019). At the same time iTunes is being divided into dumbed down subunits (iBooks regression). The last 2-3 revisions of iTunes have been so bad that this feels almost like a mercy killing.

We don’t have a  way to avoid these regressions. Once we could have gotten off the train, now the train stations are dangerous neighborhoods of lethal malware. We need to keep upgrading, and so much is bundled with macOS and iOS that we can’t find 3rd party alternatives. Data lock is ubiquitous now.

I think regressions are less common outside digital world. It’s true toasters aren’t what they were, but since 2006 Chinese products have become better made and more reliable. Perhaps the closest thing to tech regressions in the material world is the chaos of pharma prices.

This takes a toll. There are so many better ways to spend my life, and too few minutes to waste. I wonder what these regressions do to non-geeks; I don’t think it goes well for them.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Did an autonomous Tesla kill its first cyclist?

This Nov 2017 crash hasn’t gotten enough attention …

Tesla Strikes and Kills UK Cyclist |

… An 80-year-old man was killed Friday when a Tesla Model S, an electric car with some autonomous capabilities, struck him as he rode his bike near the U.K. village of High Shincliffe.

The cyclist—identified as Fred Heppell, a former bank manager from Lanchester, U.K.—was airlifted to a nearby hospital, where he later died. Initial news reports did not indicate if the driver faces any charges, although police are reportedly seeking eyewitnesses to the crash.

While not a fully self-driving vehicle, the Model S has an autopilot feature that allows the car to steer itself in certain circumstances. Promotional videos online show test drivers letting go of the steering wheel while the vehicle maintains speed and control on relative straightaways. (It tops out at 90 miles per hour in autopilot mode, according to the company website.) The car can also change lanes and park on its own.

It’s unclear if the driver in Friday’s crash had applied the autonomous technology at the time of the collision. U.K. reporters described the road where the crash occurred as “predominantly a straight road with gentle inclines.” Heppell was, by all accounts, an experienced rider.

“Fred averaged 10,000 miles per year on his bike and with his wife by his side had cycled across America, Australia, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, and a host of European countries in his retirement years,” Heppell’s family told the British press…

I was unable to find any follow-up. I am skeptical of Tesla’s approach to autonomous vehicles: I think it is reckless. Any Tesla in autonomous or semi-autonomous mode should run a 360 video to ensure accidents are well understood and permits should not be issued without testing response to cyclists.

I think Google’s autonomous vehicles may, in time, be a boon to cyclists and pedestrians. Tesla, no so much.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

NYT moves columnist blogs into a controlled venue -- with some deprecated RSS

The NYT has moved Krugman’s blog to a new platform. I presume this is true for all their journalists. The NYT RSS index still points to his now frozen blog at 

So what’s the new platform?

K wrote that posts will show up on his regular columnist page: That page has an RSS feed. Of course, as is the norm these days, the page does not indicate the feed exists. It has an odd structure

When I added the feed to Feedbin it displayed in a strange sequence — without the publication date. So the source RSS may be malformed. It’s possible the NYT will fix this.

I note that the footer for the post from 12/9/2017 still points to his old blog “The Conscience of a Liberal”. 

It looks like the NYT is sort-of keeping it’s RSS feeds around, but the transition is at least a bit messy. I can’t tell how one distinguishes K blog posts from his “print” articles, they seem to share one stream. That has to make his writing more formal and more controlled. Which is perhaps the point. 

I am reminded again of an unfortunate side-effect of the ad-funded internet. “Free” media streams now target the easily manipulated populations, typically to serve causes of the corporate and wealthy, often to persuade  the credulous to act against their own interests. They are essentially parasitic. Pay streams can be excellent, but they are only accessible to a small minority.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Weinstein, The Enquirer, Pecker and Trump - a curious set of friendships

From NYT essay on Weinstein and his enablers an interesting set of misogynistic relationships …

Weinstein’s Complicity Machine - The New York Times

… Mr. Weinstein held off press scrutiny with a mix of threats and enticements … He was so close to David J. Pecker, the chief executive of American Media Inc., which owns The Enquirer, that he was known in the tabloid industry as an untouchable “F.O.P.,” or “friend of Pecker.” That status was shared by a chosen few, including President Trump.

Via Twitter, how Trump is fighting sexual harassment in DC.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Taxing the externalities of the attention economy

The Economist has an excellent overview of the risks of the attention economy (11/4/17). The Gamergate connection is particularly good.

There is so much to say about all of the perverse consequences of funding the net through a tax on attention. I’m sure we don’t fully understand all of the implications; the reality may be even more grim than we know. It’s already grim enough though. So grim that the Russian assisted collapse of the US government has seized a fraction of our distracted attention.

It appears that most Americans are easily manipulated through modern meme-injectors like Facebook and Twitter. Vulnerability increases with lower education levels (among the privileged education is a rough proxy for cognition), but few are completely immune to distraction. We resemble a people who have never seen alcohol a few months after the whisky trade arrives.

If we believe the attention/ad funded economy is the mene equivalent of fentanyl or tobacco, what do we do about it? There are lessons from managing addictive and health destroying substances such as tobacco. It begins with with taxation.

We tax cigarettes heavily. We can similarly tax net advertising. Our goal should be to increase the cost of online advertising several fold. We raise the cost until few advertisers can afford it. At that point Facebook has to turn to other revenue sources to maintain services — such as charging a yearly fee to users.

This is obviously not sufficient, but it’s a beginning.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

What percent of white women voted for Trump - really?

I’d read that 53% of white women voted for Trump and 45% of college-educated white women. I’ve quoted those numbers. Today I looked for an update. It was a bit harder than I expected, many numbers didn’t split out the white from non-white vote. In Jan 2017 FiveThirtyEight wrote

…Trump won among white women by an average of 6.5 percentage points, according to exit polls, and he did particularly well with white women without a college degree, winning among that group by about 24 percentage points…

That article cited a CNN exit poll last updated Nov 23 2016. It had what I was looking for:




The numbers that stand out for me …

  • 94% of black women voted for Clinton. Sanity lives in one cohort.
  • 44% of college-grad white women voted Trump. I’d thought it was closer to 50%. This is still horrible of course.
  • The white gender gap is smaller than I thought — 10%. White women are almost as a bad as white men.
  • Among whites college made a 17% difference - much bigger than gender.
  • 53% white college men voted T vs. 61% white non-college women. Among all whites college was a 17% gap. Education (or cognitive ability) was more important than gender.
  • There’s a 48% gap between black and white women T voters. Sisterhood died in 2016.
  • And, yes, 52% of white women, the majority, did make a horrible mistake.

The CNN page is worth remembering - my memory was only off by 1%. My takeaway was that race mattered above all, next education (or cognitive ability), and least of all gender.

Personal note - Google Scholar discovers something I maybe wrote and forgot long ago

Funny personal note.

While testing Google Scholar's new features I ended up creating a profile based on my (limited) academic publications.

It turned up one from 1981.…


I remember doing SURFEQL FORTRAN code for my friend Jim Young around 1980-81 as a Caltech undergrad (at the time Jim was a grad student and my boss). I imagine I might have written something at the time, but maybe Jim wrote the manual and put my name on it. I have absolutely no memory of this.

What a weird echo.

Understanding century 21 - IT, Globalization and urban-urban migration

In the 90s the world kind of made sense. Since then, not so much. I don’t know if teens truly are experiencing an anxiety epidemic, but any American growing up in the new millennium has reason to be anxious.

I think the root causes of our disruption are globalization (China and India) and information technology (AI, robots, advertising supported web, etc) leading to peak human/mass disability and the collapse of the GOP.

I’m now considering a third factor — namely urban-urban migration (though it may be a consequence of globalization and IT rather than a root cause). The population required to sustain a viable local economy keeps increasing; this is absolutely not what we expected when the net was young. Once a city of 10,000 was viable, then a city of 50,000, then a few hundred thousand. We seem too heading towards a million as baseline.

This is politically potent here because the structure of American government gives disproportionate power to low population density regions. The pain of these communities is politically consequential. This is usually described as a “rural” crisis, but these aren’t “rural” in the traditional sense. They are regions around large towns and small cities that are no longer economically viable.

I was a family medicine resident and a young physician in communities like these. Recent stories feel familiar — they remind me of my desolate drives along the Erie Canal and the IT driven end of the mill town. It’s a worldwide thing.

Humans have been migrating from rural areas to cities for centuries. It’s often been socially disruptive. It still is, particularly because of the way American government works. The dying regions have power, and as they lose their cognitive elite they are ever more desperate and easier to deceive.

See also

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Saint Paul Minnesota mayoral race: bikes and peds

The extraordinary St Paul Bicycle coalition has a couple of useful references on our upcoming mayoral race:

They are careful not to make a recommendation; they need to work with the winner.

Pat Harris is the Dem establishment favorite. He’s not bad on pedestrians but relatively weak on bicycles. Melvin Carter is probably the progressive favorite - strong on bikes and peds. Elizabeth Dickinson is green party - and as supportive as one would expect. I’d put Dai Thao between Harris and Carter/Dickinson.

We have started doing ranked choice voting. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. Bike/ped/transit is big for my family, so I do like Mr Carter’s statements.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Small traps to watch out for: My Merrill Lynch unexpected brokerage fees

Life has lots of small traps. Sharing this one in case it’s useful.

I once worked for a firm that granted me stock options that were held by Merrill Lynch. I appreciated them. When I left that firm I thought I’d cleaned out the brokerage account. I was warned I’d need to pay $65 a year to keep it so I wanted the money out.

I didn’t quite close it though [1], so a late dividend of $72 went into the account. I missed that — busy with other things and Emily manages our statements. When she was able to get me to look Merrill Lynch said I was too late — a yearly fee of $65 had left only $7.

This time I did close the account — so next year I won’t owe them $58!

Moral of the story — don’t leave inactive accounts lying around. They will bite you in the butt. Get the damned things closed.

[1] Actually, I thought I did close it. I wonder if the dividend reopened it. Maybe there really isn’t a useful lesson to this story … except to have as few accounts as possible so you can track the darned things …

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Elenco SnapCircuits 500 block layout

I have bought things for my children that I dreamt of as a child — but were out of my parent's price range.

Shockingly, my children have not always appreciated these gifts. For example — I think the Elenco Snap Circuits Pro 500 is a brilliant toy. I tried it on all 3 kids and was 0 for 3. No interest whatsoever.

Years later I needed to find a good home for it — but the parts had been scattered in a storage bin. Even though the components are in perfect shape the box had been water damaged by a minor basement flood and the “block layout” guide was unreadable. I tried to find one online but came up empty — though in writing this I discovered Elenco had it online all along. Happily I had a photo I’d taken and I found nothing was missing. I even have a candidate victim child to give the unused kit to.

Today, since I couldn’t find a photo on the web and Google couldn’t find the dang block layout, here’s one for anyone searching for it. (Assuming, of course, that Google indexes this page. It doesn’t index this kind of content anywhere near as well as it once did. Not coincidentally, once Google would have found that layout.)

SnapCircuits500 1

SnapCircuits500 2

I bought the extra books too!

SnapCircuits500 3

and here’s the box …

SnapCircuits500 4

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Faughnan-Lagace Herald -- now Dilbert free

The first thing I did on the web, as a class assignment sometime between 1994 and 1995, was a personal profile. I just reread it. Ouch. I was pretty young well into middle age.

The Faughnan-Lagace Herald might have been the second thing I did. It was a quick way to visit a variety of favored news sources years before RSS, and Feedbin. The FLH would have started as HTML 2, but somewhere around 1995 or so I started using Microsoft FrontPage to edit it. It hasn’t needed many changes, which is good because about ten years ago I gave up on running FrontPage in an old XP VM.

It hasn’t needed many changes … but recently it started to become … irritating. It had a Dilbert problem:


Yes, a link to Dilbert — visible every time I visited my old news page. Once up on a time it kind of fit. It’s hard to remember now, but Scott Adams wasn’t always a de facto spokesperson for the white nationalists (Nati). Twenty years ago his comic strip was often entertaining. Today it’s embarrassing. 

Fixing this has been on my todo list for a while. It’s not that hard to edit FrontPage output in a text editor so today Arts & Leisure is much improved …

News xkcd

If only the rest the Trump world was as easy to fix.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

CrossFit 58

I’ve had a habit around each birthday to review where I’m at with my exercise addiction. This past week was the 58th. I bought myself a Canon SL2 and Emily made me a fabulous Black Forest cake. So time for an update.

I started on the hard stuff at 53. I’d done some exercise before that - mostly road biking, nordic skiing, inline skating and other soft stuff. At 53 though, I fell into CrossFit. Actually, I was pushed. By a friend.

Four and a half years later I’m 58 and I’m still a regular at CrossFit St Paul. I average 3-4 CF workouts a week, mountain bike 1-2 times a week, and do 1-2 days a week of recovery weights or road biking or ice hockey or nordic skiing.

I’ve had soft tissue strains and pains from all of those things, but by now I’m good at rehab. I have a suite that covers hamstring/gluteal/“piriformis”, lower back strain, shoulder things, achilles stuff, chondromalacia patellae and more. “More” includes a familial arthritis syndrome affecting my hands and knees. Sooner or later that will do me in, but hydroxychloroquine seems to slow the progression. When it was diagnosed 2 years ago I figured I’d be out of CF by now, but the arthritis hasn't been a big deal yet.

I work the rehab into my workouts. It’s all one thing. Mostly I’m pretty good.

Over time I lost about 20 lbs of fat and gained about 5 lbs of muscle. Alas, at 58 I have no more muscle stem cells — those seem to go away in the 30s. I may yet get a bit stronger with practice, but not a lot. I’ve bumped up some of my weightlifting records, but recently my overhead squat and snatch have sucked. Seems the small amount of muscle I added to my shoulders came along with decreased range of shoulder motion. Gives me something else to work on.

I still can’t do consecutive double-unders, I have to mix singles and dubs. I may set a record for longest time practicing without success. It’s a coordination thing — I’ve always been clumsy but age sucks. I’ll try a fourth jump rope; some say a slower, heavier rope works better for the old. I have a rope for every occasion now.

I haven’t been able to do a muscle-up - neither bar nor ring. I work on it. Maybe someday.

I got into this to keep my formerly bad back better and because the only things that seem to slow dementia onset are sleep and exercise. I need to slow the dementia - family circumstances mean my brain has to work until about 85, when I can finally keel over and die. It’s too early to tell if it works for the dementia, but my back is pretty good.

Happily I enjoy CrossFit. I travel for work and always drop in on a CF gym — they are almost everywhere (not Hot Springs South Dakota though). I’m almost resigned to being the slowest and weakest person in the box.

It’s a living.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Moving the body - how much is too much?

I’ve read that our national dumpster fire believes exercise is unwise. That’s not a surprise.

It does remind me though of an open medical question — what is the optimal amount of physical activity?

We know the optimal amount of activity is far more than most Americans do. We suspect there are limits though. Most people should not try to deadlift 400 lbs without a lot of training and some helpful genetics. Likewise few bodies will do well running a marathon every other week.

That’s a pretty wide range though. It would help to have a guide for various ages. For example, I’ve found I run into trouble if I do full CrossFit workouts more than 3-4 times a week, but I bet 30 years ago I’d have been ok at 5-6 times a week. Once I’d have done well mountain biking daily, now my arthritic knees prefer 2-3 times a week.

When our stem cells are happy we don’t wear out like a camera shutter. When they’re depleted we may truly have a limited number of clicks. On the other hand, sometimes a set of heavy back squats puts my knees right for a week or more. That’s just weird.

There’s quite a bit of research on this question. It’s worth following …

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Uninsured patients in US (mostly) no longer pay crazed "list price" for hospital care

I had no idea this situation had improved — and I follow health care fairly closely ….

The Pricing Of U.S. Hospital Services: Chaos Behind A Veil Of Secrecy Uwe Reinhardt

… Until recently, only uninsured, self-paying U.S. patients have been billed the full charges listed in hospitals’ inflated charge masters, usually on the argument that the Medicare rules required it.21 This is how even uninsured middle-class U.S. patients could find themselves paying off over many years a hospital bill of, say, $30,000 for a procedure that Medicaid would have reimbursed at only $6,000 and commercial insurers somewhere in between.22

Because uninsured patients often are members of low-income families, many of them ultimately paid only a fraction of the vastly inflated charges they were originally billed by the hospital, but only after intensive and morally troubling collection efforts by the hospital.23 After a series of searing exposes of these collection efforts in the press—notably by staff reporter Lucette Lagnado of the Wall Street Journal—Congress held hearings on these practices.24 Partly under pressure from consumers and lawmakers and partly on their own volition, many hospitals now have means-tested discounts off their charge masters for uninsured patients, which bring the prices charged the uninsured closer to those paid by commercial insurers or even below.25 Some very poor patients, of course, have received hospital care free of charge all along, on a purely charitable basis…

The whole article is essential reading for journalists and anyone working in health care policy or as a healthcare executive. Hell, I didn’t know California mandated publication of hospital charge masters. Progress really is being made.

Reinhardt, by the way, is 80 years old. Long may he write.