Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 2012

Hank Jones: Wave

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Hank Jones (Thad’s brother) was a great pianist. Here he is:

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2012 at 8:36 am

Posted in Jazz, Video

The industrial-Congressional complex

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In this case, the “military” part of the military-industrial-Congressional complex is not involved: they don’t want the tanks, but the industry wants to build and sell them, and the industry controls Congress, which makes the decisions. But Congress, of course, is determined to slash spending, so industry doesn’t have a chance…  well, no: that’s not the way it works. Aaron Mehta and Lydia Mulvaney report for McClatchy:

The M1Abrams tank has survived the Cold War, two conflicts in Iraq and a decade of war in Afghanistan. No wonder: It weighs as much as nine elephants and it’s fitted with a cannon that’s capable of turning a building to rubble from two and a half miles away. But now the machine is a target in an unusual battle between the Defense Department and lawmakers who are the beneficiaries of large campaign donations by its manufacturer.

The Pentagon, facing smaller budgets and looking toward a new global strategy, wants to save as much as $3 billion by freezing refurbishing work on the M1 from 2014 to 2017, so it can redesign the vehicle from top to bottom. Its proposal would idle a large factory in Lima, Ohio, as well as halt work at dozens of subcontractors in Pennsylvania, Michigan and other states.

Abrams manufacturer General Dynamics, a nationwide employer that’s pumped millions of dollars into congressional elections over the past decade, opposes the Pentagon’s plans. The tank’s supporters on Capitol Hill say they’re desperate to save jobs in their districts and concerned about undermining America’s military capabilities.

So far, the contractor is winning the battle, after a well-organized campaign of lobbying and political donations involving the lawmakers on four key committees that will decide the tank’s fate, according to an analysis of spending and lobbying records by the Center for Public Integrity.

Sharp spikes in the company’s donations – including a two-week period last year when its employees and political action committee sent the lawmakers checks for their campaigns that totaled nearly $50,000 – roughly coincided with five legislative milestones for the Abrams, including committee hearings and votes and the defense bill’s final passage last year.

After putting the tank money back in the budget then, the House of Representatives and Senate Armed Services committees have authorized it again this year – allotting $181 million in the House and $91 million in the Senate. If the company and its supporters prevail, the Army will refurbish what Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno described in a February hearing as “280 tanks that we simply do not need.” . . .

Continue reading. I understand the importance of keeping people working, but the same government money could be spent instead on infrastructure projects, employing people to improve the state of the country instead of paying them to build tanks we simply do not need and the military does not want. If Congress wants to spend that money, infrastructure repair and maintenance is a better target—but of course infrastructure repair and maintenance is not giving members of Congress vast sums of money. The reason for the decision is obvious.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2012 at 8:32 am

Ethiopian chicken recipe: Terrific taste and easily done

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I sent this recipe link to The Eldest, who’s a fan of Ethiopian cooking, and she reports that it is delicious. She made thighs rather than drumsticks, and she reports that the spiciness level is mild. Obviously, you can kick it up with some cayenne if you want. It seems to be one of those recipes where you can cook some extra for later lunches.

The ingredients:

  • 3-4 pounds chicken legs, thighs or wings
  • 2 Tbsp peanut oil, or melted butter (or ghee)
  • Salt
  • Lemons or limes for serving

Spice Mix

  • 2 Tbsp sweet paprika
  • 1 Tbsp hot paprika, or 1-2 teaspoons cayenne
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Recipe is at the link above.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2012 at 8:26 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Very nice shave from a very small razor

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Today I decided to use one of several compact travel razors I have, all of the same general design: fitting into compartments n a small metal box (this one seems to have a leather-covered top and bottom, with the handle in two sections, the smaller top section nestling inside the larger bottom section for storage. Screw the handle together, load the head and attach the handle, and you have a full-size razor, somewhat light in heft but feeling quite solid nonetheless. As I recall, they run generally to the open-comb design, as shown in the photo.

First I washed my beard with a high-glycerin soap, as usual, then used the Simpson Case, itself a good size for travel, to work up a good lather from the Klar Seifen shave soap—which in its compact tin is another travel-oriented shave product.

A surprisingly comfortable three-pass shave—very pleasant, in fact: the little razor has its merits, and the Swedish Gillette blade, though previously used, was still sharp and enjoyable. A rinse, followed by a splash of Alpa 378, and the day begins.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2012 at 7:39 am

Posted in Shaving

Mark Bittman continues to weigh in on dairy

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It certainly seems easy to experiment: give up all dairy products for a month and see what happens. Apparently for some, what happens is quite good and surprising. Bittman writes in the NY Times:

Not surprisingly, experiences like mine with dairy, outlined in my column of two weeks ago, are more common than unusual, at least according to the roughly 1,300 comments and e-mails we received since then. In them, people outlined their experiences with dairy and health problems as varied as heartburn, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, eczema, acne, hives, asthma (“When I gave up dairy, my asthma went away completely”), gall bladder issues, body aches, ear infections, colic, “seasonal allergies,” rhinitis, chronic sinus infections and more. (One writer mentioned an absence of canker sores after cutting dairy; I realized I hadn’t had a canker sore — which I’ve gotten an average of once a month my whole life — in four months. Something else to think about.)

Although lactose intolerance and its generalized digestive tract problems are well documented, and milk allergies are thought to affect perhaps 1 percent of the American population, the links between milk (or dairy) and such a broad range of ailments has not been well studied, at least by the medical establishment.

Yet if you speak with people who’ve had these kinds of reactive problems, it would appear that the medical establishment is among the last places you’d want to turn for advice. Nearly everyone who complained of heartburn, for example, later resolved by eliminating dairy, had a story of a doctor (usually a gastroenterologist) prescribing a proton pump inhibitor, or P.P.I., a drug (among the most prescribed in the United States) that blocks the production of acid in the stomach.

But — like statins — P.P.I.s don’t address underlying problems, nor are they “cures.” They address only the symptom, not its cause, and they are only effective while the user takes them. Thus in the last few days I’ve read scores of stories like mine, some of which told of involuntary or incidental withdrawal of dairy from the diet — a trip to China (where milk remains less common), or a vacation with non-milk-drinking friends or family — when symptoms disappeared, followed by their return upon resumption of a “normal” diet.

Others abandoned dairy for animal cruelty reasons, or a move towards veganism, and found, as one reader wrote, “My chronic lifelong nasal congestion vanished within a week, never to return.” Still others (I’m happy to report) read my piece and, like one writer, “immediately gave up dairy … and quit taking my medications.  After nine days … I have had no heartburn, despite the fact that I have eaten many foods that would normally bring it on…. It feels like a miracle.”

There is anger as well as surprise, because . . .

Continue reading. I actually haven’t had milk in a long time, though I do have yogurt and a pat of butter each morning with an egg. But no milk.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2012 at 8:26 pm

Posted in Food, Health

Special report in the New Scientist on Inequality

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Quite fascinating series of articles—for example, the evolutionary heritage of humanity has been egalitarian societies: the hunter-gatherer humans were highly egalitarian because of the chanciness of their food supply: anyone could come back empty-handed, so sharing was the (socially enforced) norm—the way to survive. But with the introduction of agriculture and surpluses there arose a manager class, and inequality became the rule. The interesting thing is that inequality results in instability, so that societies with high inequality quickly spread, looking for additional resources, pushed by internal conflicts (and competition), etc., and ended up wiping out egalitarian societies.

At any rate, a fascinating collection of articles looking at inequality from various points of view—for example, societies with high inequality are better for the environment.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2012 at 8:16 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Interesting food notes

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I don’t know how much credence to give this, but it is interesting and certainly fits with my own eating preferences (as you know from my grub recipes):

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2012 at 6:59 pm

Best healthcare system in the world?

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Jessica Silver-Greenberg reports in the NY Times:

Accretive Health, one of the nation’s largest collectors of medical debt, has agreed to pay $2.5 million to the Minnesota state attorney general’s office to settle accusations that it violated a federal law requiring hospitals to provide emergency care, even if patients cannot afford to pay.

The company has not admitted wrongdoing. [Of course not: they never do. IMO the attorney general should insist on that as a condition of settlement, since it will ease the lawsuits against the company. In additional, I would say the wrongdoing is evident if not flagrant. - LG]

As part of Monday’s settlement, Accretive Health is also barred from contracting with hospitals within the state for at least two years, effectively ending its business at three Minnesota hospitals. For four years after that, the company will have to obtain permission from the attorney general before resuming business in the state.

In April, Lori Swanson, the Minnesota attorney general, disclosed hundreds of Accretive’s internal documents that outlined aggressive collection tactics, including embedding debt collectors in emergency rooms and pressuring patients to pay before receiving treatment.

Carol Wall, a 53-year-old Minnesota resident, said “a woman with a computer cart” told her she owed $300 as she was “vaginally hemorrhaging large amounts of blood” at an Accretive-run emergency room in January, according to court records.

Another patient, Terry Mackel, 50, said he was asked to pay $363.55 at another Accretive-operated emergency room in Minnesota as he waited “alone, groggy and hooked up to an IV” waiting to see an emergency room doctor, according to court documents. Fearing that it was the only way to see a doctor, both patients paid.

Accretive Health declined to comment about Ms. Wall and Mr. Mackel. “The conduct described by these patients is directly contrary to Accretive Health’s policies, practices and training,” Accretive said in a statement.

In an interview Monday, Ms. Swanson said . . .

Continue reading. A lot of people say that hospitals should be run like a business. This is what you get when you do: a focus on profit above all.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2012 at 6:12 pm

Wow! Jonah Lehrer resigns from New Yorker, admits to fabricating quotations

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This report took me totally by surprise. I’ve really liked Lehrer’s writing: a very bright guy who seemed to be moving rapidly up in the world of writing. It looks as though he cut some crucial corners on the way. Julie Bosman reports in the NY Times:

Jonah Lehrer, the staff writer for The New Yorker who apologized in June for recycling his previous work in articles, blogs and his best-selling book “Imagine,” resigned from the magazine, he said in a statement.

Mr. Lehrer faced new questions about his work on Monday in an article in the online magazine Tablet that reported that he had admitted to fabricating quotes attributed to Bob Dylan in “Imagine,” a nonfiction book published in March by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

“Three weeks ago, I received an email from journalist Michael Moynihan asking about Bob Dylan quotes in my book ‘Imagine,’ ” Mr. Lehrer said in a statement. “The quotes in question either did not exist, were unintentional misquotations, or represented improper combinations of previously existing quotes. But I told Mr. Moynihan that they were from archival interview footage provided to me by Dylan’s representatives. This was a lie spoken in a moment of panic. When Mr. Moynihan followed up, I continued to lie, and say things I should not have said.”

“The lies are over now. I understand the gravity of my position. I want to apologize to everyone I have let down, especially my editors and readers. I also owe a sincere apology to Mr. Moynihan. I will do my best to correct the record and ensure that my misquotations and mistakes are fixed. I have resigned my position as staff writer at The New Yorker.” . . .

Continue reading. This seems terribly sad. It strikes me as different, somehow, from Stephen Glass‘s serial fabrications at The New Republic or Jayson Blair‘s at the NY Times, or Janet Cooke‘s in the Washington Post (which won a Pultizer prize). Not to excuse or condone Lehrer’s bad choice, but it doesn’t seem like the sort of wholesale fabrication committed by the others. But he did it, and I think his life will now change dramatically.

Oddly, I was just about to blog a link to this Lifehacker post on making mistakes in the Internet age—when the record of the mistake seems to live on. Since we all do make mistakes—perhaps not so grave as those listed above, but mistakes nonetheless—the article is worth a look. And the point is well taken that mistakes are how we learn. As I once said to someone, “If you’re batting 1.000, you’re playing in the wrong league.” A record of perfection is not a good sign, overall. Growth involves mistakes.

UPDATE: Roxane Gay has an interesting take at Salon.com on the Jonah Lehrer incident, with a focus on the system that produced and promoted him and that (she believes) will protect and reinstate him. We’ll see, but in the meantime her column is worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2012 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

Dean Baker upbraids Bill Keller

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Dean Baker is a respected economist, Bill Keller is the former NY Times editor who was a cheerleader for the war in Iraq and who withheld the story of the wholesale illegal domestic surveillance ordered by the Bush Administration until after the election, thus helping to enable Bush to squeak into office for a second term. (The Supreme Court must be credited with an assist as well, but if the story had been released, several close states may have gone the other way; Bill Keller apparently did not want that to happen, so he sat on the story until another paper was about to break it (after the election was safely over).)

At any rate, Keller weighs in with a column today about how important it is to cut Social Security and Medicare—and I imagine the fact that he doesn’t need either plays a significant part in his opinion. And so does Dean Baker, who writes:

The effort by the rich to take away Social Security keeps building momentum. Today Bill Keller urges his fellow baby boomers:

“FELLOW boomers, we have done more than our share to make this mess. It’s not our fault that there are a lot of us, but we have resisted any move to fix the system. We should make a sensible reform of entitlements our generation’s cause. We should stiffen the spines of our politicians, and push lobby groups like A.A.R.P. to climb out of the bunker and lead.”

“Lead” in this context means supporting cuts to Social Security and Medicare. That is really brave for Mr. Keller to stand up and call for sacrifice from his age cohort. Does Keller know that the typical near retiree has total wealth of $170,000. This includes everything in their 401(k), all their other financial assets and the equity in their homes. Another way to put this is that the typical near retiree (between the ages of 55-64) could take all their wealth and pay off their mortgage. After that they would be entirely dependent on their Social Security to cover all their living costs.

Does this situation describe Mr. Keller’s finances? My guess is that it doesn’t. If that is true, how does Keller claim to speak for people who are in a hugely different financial situation than him? Is he really that ignorant of the issues that the NYT gives him a column to write about or is he dishonest? Readers will have to debate that in the months and years ahead.

This is not the only place in the piece where Keller lets ignorance and/or dishonesty get the better of him. At one point he calls for a change in the indexation formula for Social Security’s cost of living adjustment that would be the equivalent of a 3.0 percent across the board cut in benefits. (We know, got to do something about those high living seniors.)

Keller describes this 3.0 percent cut in Social Security benefits as:

“They also include technical fixes like aligning the automatic cost-of-living formula with reality.”

Is that right? Has Keller studied the cost-of-living for the elderly? Did he evaluate the Bureau of Labor Statistics elderly index, which generally shows that senior citizens experience a higher rate of inflation than the index used for making the annual cost of living adjustment for Social Security.

If he did, he shows zero evidence of this fact in his piece. It sure sounds like he is just repeating pablum that passed for wisdom in Washington elite circles, but rightly gets ridiculed everywhere else.

While Keller appeals to arithmetic it is not on his side. The arithmetic says that . . .

Continue reading. A good case can be made that Bill Keller is not very smart, but that doesn’t mean that he’s honest.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2012 at 11:53 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

Weight note

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I haven’t talked about my weight loss efforts lately, and gave up the daily weight report as too up and down. But to step back: after hitting my goal of 170 lbs, I tried entering maintenance by eating some formerly forbidden foods and let it get out of hand somewhat. I find that it’s better for me to simply avoid some foods altogether. OTOH, I do now truly understand how to eat and how to lose weight, so when I hit 192.9 lbs on 10 May, I thought it was time to get to work. Nothing drastic, just resume eating sensibly, cut out all bites of food except at meals, make sure I didn’t miss any fruit snacks, and so on. The weight bounced up and down daily, but the trend was down. Still, although I still weigh daily, I decided no need to report daily.

But I think it’s time for a check-in. This morning’s weight is 177.5 lbs, and it’s been 81 days since 10 May, when I hit the recent high, or 11.6 weeks. I’ve lost 15.4 lbs in that time, or 1.33 lbs/week.

At the time I said one should figure on about 1 lb per week when the “diet” (in the sense of weight-loss foods” is really just a diet (in the sense of the foods you eat) of normal foods, prepared sensible and with sensible portions. I’m doing a little better than that, but still I would expect this last 7.5 lbs will not be gone until close to the end of September.

That’s why a 5-lb gain is a serious thing: you can expect it will take more than a month to lose it. I used to think adding 5 lbs was really nothing to get excited about, but now I think of those pounds in terms of the weeks they represent, and it seems like more. That makes it easier to still with sensible foods and right-sized portions.

I also understand better how to be patient as I lose weight: I know it’s going to go slowly, at about 1 lb/week, but I’m not going anywhere and in particular I’m not going to throw up my hands and say, “Enough! It’s not working!” and have a tremendous feast. I now know understand (in the sense of truly grasp) that doesn’t work. Previously I knew in an abstract way that it didn’t work, but my adaptive unconscious was not convinced. Now we’re on the same page.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2012 at 9:36 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Food, Health

NJ courts will recognize scientific findings regarding memory

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Many organizations that have developed procedures are resistant to changing those them even when evidence clearly shows that current procedures are badly flawed and better methods exist: the organizational culture has absorbed a way of doing things and clings to it.

New Jersey’s State Supreme Court has recognized scientific research and findings regarding human memory and has mandated a new approach. Mary Ann Spoto reports for the Star-Ledger:

New Jersey’s standards for eyewitness testimony in the courtroom is unreliable and can encourage police misconduct, the state Supreme Court said today in ordering a revision of investigative and court practices.

The unanimous ruling follows a recent report recommending tighter restrictions on eyewitness testimony and is likely to have far-reaching effects beyond New Jersey.

The decision tightens standards adopted by New Jersey after the U.S. Supreme Court 34 years ago announced the rules for allowing eyewitness testimony in the courtroom.

Since that time, however, “a vast body of scientific research about human memory has emerged,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote. “That body of work casts doubt on some commonly held views relating to memory.”

Noting most wrongful convictions in the United States are the result of misidentification, the court said judges should conduct pretrial hearings when there is a question about whether police suggestion influenced the outcome of an identification. The court also said jurors should be given greater instruction about how eyewitness testimony can be influenced.

Public Defender Joseph Krakora, who argued the case before the state Supreme Court, . . .

Continue reading. It’s highly gratifying to see a government organization accepting current knowledge and incorporating that into its procedures. This ruling will keep some innocent people from going to prison.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2012 at 7:51 am

Posted in Government, Law, Science

Termite suicide bombers

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Fascinating—but does not the same situation exist for bees, who lose their sting and die in the defense of the hive? Hayley Dunning reports at The Scientist:

Famed biologist E.O. Wilson wrote that while humans send their young men to war, ants send their old ladies. As workers age in insect societies, they play a larger role in nest defense, and new research on a termite species has revealed a link between aging termites and the accumulation of toxic substances on their backs—which they can burst in an act of self-sacrifice when the colony is threatened.

“I think it is a great discovery and a nice combination of behavioral, morphological, and molecular biology,” said Olav Rueppell, who studies social insects at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and was not involved in the study, by email. “It demonstrates the power of kin selection and social evolution to create novel adaptations.”

Inspecting individuals of Neocapritermes taracua termites, which feed on and live in decaying wood, Robert Hanus of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and colleagues noticed some workers had dark blue spots at the intersection of the thorax and abdomen. When faced with rivals of another termite species, these so-called “blue workers” actively bite their attackers until they are overpowered, at which point they burst their backs to expose the blue dots.

The blue dots, it turns out, are . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2012 at 7:43 am

Posted in Science

Apollo at Ginger’s Garden

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Fine shave once again, but the true pleasure’s in the process. Ginger’s Garden makes a very nice “shaving cream soap“, along with various other products for men, including shave sticks, aftershave splashes, glycerin-based shaving soap, and so on. The Almond Creme shaving cream soap I used today produced a good lather easily with the H.L. Thäter brush, and the Apollo Mikron with its Swedish Gillette blade did a fine three-pass shave. This is one of the razors that I had to learn—when I first started using it, I would get nicks more often than usual—but after a while, those problems vanished and now it’s another excellent shaver and a favorite: very heft, very solid, like a Progress on steroids.

Three smooth passes, then a dab of Al’s Shaving Palermo aftershave balm. I do like the fragrance—and the balm, for that matter—but it’s very thick and quite difficult to get out of the container. Perhaps mine has dried somewhat, or I just got a stiff batch. I did manage to get some out, though, and I enjoyed the effect.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2012 at 7:38 am

Posted in Shaving

I’m interviewed at ShaveNook

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Dave at Shave Nook recently interviewed me.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2012 at 9:34 pm

Posted in Shaving

The dark side of Craigslist: Innovation killer

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And Craigslist not only kills innovation, it does so seemingly just out of perversity. Read Nick Bilton’s report in the NY Times:

In 1995, a good-hearted programmer named Craig Newmark thought of a way to make newspaper classified ad listings simple, and in turn, people’s lives easier. His free Web site, called Craigslist, quickly gained millions of users. Eye-popping offers to buy the company outright came in, all of which Mr. Newmark turned down, saying Craigslist was a “public good.”

Craigslist makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year, but it has become stagnant. Today, it feels stuck in the 1990s, where links are electric blue and everything is underlined. As a result, the site is now crammed with listings and is extremely difficult to use.

One might think Craigslist is as ready for disruption as sleepy newspaper classified ad sections once were. Why hasn’t a site this vulnerable been displaced?

There may be part of the answer in this tale. Eric DeMenthon, a 27-year-old programmer, was one of the users overwhelmed by the site. In 2008 he was searching for an apartment on Craigslist and he couldn’t navigate the endless listings. So he quickly built an application that placed Craigslist apartment ads on an online map. After finding an apartment with the tool he had cobbled together, he realized the product had saved him so much time that he should make it available to others, also as a “public good.”

He said, “I did the math and I figure if I save people three hours of their time on my site when they need to look for a new apartment, that’s over 350 years of time that I can save people each month.”

Last week, Craigslist served Mr. DeMenthon with a lawsuit accusing his site, Padmapper, of infringing on copyright and trademark, and it threw in a long list of other piracy-related claims for good measure.

But, according to Mr. DeMenthon, he isn’t stealing anything. . .

Continue reading. From later in the article:

. . . Craigslist and its chief executive, Jim Buckmaster, did not return repeated requests for comment.

Yet something doesn’t add up in all this. In July 2010, on the question-and-answer site Quora, Mr. Newmark defended the company’s actions in a similar situation to Padmapper, saying he did not take issue with sites that do not affect Craigslist’s servers. “Actually, we take issue with only services which consume a lot of bandwidth, it’s that simple,” Mr. Newmark wrote.

But Padmapper does not siphon off a bit of bandwidth from Craigslist. Instead, it uses a company called 3Taps, which collects listings from Craigslist by looking for them on search engines, including Google and Bing, then organizing them and wrapping them up in an application programing interface, or API, so developers can build sites that point to Craigslist’s listings.

“The listings are already out there, we’re finding them already on the Web and organizing them so other people don’t have to do the same thing twice,” said Greg Kidd, the chief executive of 3Taps. “And, we’re not breaking any laws because we are pulling in the facts from the listing; everyone knows you can’t copyright facts.” Craigslist also named 3Taps in the lawsuit filed last week.

As intellectual property lawyers will tell you, Mr. Kidd is not off base: facts, like those in classified listings, cannot be copyrighted.

So why hasn’t anyone managed to unseat Craigslist, a site that has barely changed in close to two decades? . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2012 at 4:37 pm

Useful site: Gethuman.com

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I got an email this morning from the airline regarding my trip east at the end of September. It was to notify me of a schedule change, and it thoughtfully showed both the original schedule and the revised schedule. The only strange thing was that the dates and times and flight numbers were all the same in the revision as in the original.

Things like that make me uneasy, so I called the contact number and waited through a lengthy litany of options, occasionally paused to offer me the chance to say “more options.” When the list was finally exhausted, not one option was relevant. I did try “Elevate,” thinking that might be how to escalate the call to a human, but it turns out that “Elevate” is their frequent-flier program, and I had to listen to yet another recited list of things I could say to make choices.

I hung up, did a search, and found GetHuman.com. For my airline, they provided a toll-free phone number, a button to click to get a callback if I wanted to go that route, and also how to get to a human:

Talk to a Human – After prompt, press 0; when asked if you’d like to speak to an agent, say ‘Yes’, then say ‘Reservations’.

Additional information is also provided:

Ranking #1 – The #1 phone number and #1 way to reach customer service according to customers here at GetHuman. Compare all options here: (with a link)
Average Wait: 5 mins  —  24 hours, 7 days

It worked like a charm. I did get one more question—Domestic or Internataional?—and then I was talking to an agent (and learned that the notice was an error, which is what I suspected). Very efficient. Total wait time about 5 seconds.

The page includes three clickable buttons at the bottom to answer “Did this phone number work?”: Yes, No, and Update This Please, so the site provides tools to keep it up to date.

Good site to know.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2012 at 8:00 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Corporations really do intend to seize the government

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They were beat back in this one effort, but they surely will return. Steve Horn reports in Nation of Change:

On July 26, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled PA Act 13 unconstitutional. The bill would have stripped away local zoning laws, eliminated the legal concept of a Home Rule Charter, limited private property rights, and in the process, completely disempowered town, city, municipal and county governments, particularly when it comes to shale gas development.

The Court ruled that Act 13 “…violates substantive due process because it does not protect the interests of neighboring property owners from harm, alters the character of neighborhoods and makes irrational classifications – irrational because it requires municipalities to allow all zones, drilling operations and impoundments, gas compressor stations, storage and use of explosives in all zoning districts, and applies industrial criteria to restrictions on height of structures, screening and fencing, lighting and noise.”

Act 13 — pejoratively referred to as “the Nation’s Worst Corporate Giveaway” by AlterNet reporter Steven Rosenfeld — would have ended local democracy as we know it in Pennsylvania.

“It’s absolutely crushing of local self-government,” Ben Price, project director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), told Rosenfeld. “It’s a complete capitulation of the rights of the people and their right to self-government. They are handing it over to the industry to let them govern us. It is the corporate state. That is how we look at it.”

Where could the idea for such a bill come from in the first place? Rosenfeld pointed to the oil and gas industry in his piece.

That’s half of the answer. Pennsylvania is the epicenter of the ongoing fracking boom in the United States, and by and large, is a state seemingly bought off by the oil and gas industry.

The other half of the question left unanswered, though, is who do oil and gas industry lobbyists feed anti-democratic, state-level legislation to?

The answer, in a word: ALEC.

PA Act 13, Originally an ALEC Model Bill 

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is in the midst of hosting its 39th Annual Meeting this week in Salt Lake City, Utah. ALEC is appropriately described as an ideologically conservative, Republican Party-centric “corporate bill mill” by the Center for Media and Democracy, the overseer of the ALEC Exposed project. 98 percent of ALEC’s funding comes from corporations, according to CMD**.

ALEC’s meetings bring together corporate lobbyists and state legislators to schmooze, and then vote on what it calls “model bills.” Lobbyists have a “voice and a vote in shaping policy,” CMD explains. They have de facto veto power over whether their prospective bills become “models” that will be distributed to the offices of politicians in statehouses nationwide.

A close examination suggests that an ALEC model bill is quite similar to the recently overturned Act 13.

It is likely modeled after and inspired by an ALEC bill titled . . .

Continue reading. The effort to seize control of government is unremitting, because the government is the last barrier to corporations doing whatever they want.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2012 at 7:22 pm

Posted in Business, GOP, Government, Law

Oofta! Passwords brought up to snuff.

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Three full days, pecking away at passwords. Every log-on has its own unique password now, a scrambled mix of 12-14 characters, with a few exceptions. Some sites, it turns out, do not allow you to change your password—those are few, though, and universally of no danger. So a hacker gets into the grocery list program and runs off his own grocery list on my account: no serious damage done. As one would expect, the sites that do business are more, well, business-like.

Around 15% of the sites in my LastPass list turned out to be gone, with a 404 message or a placekeeper page of links for various products—not surprising: it’s a volatile business. For a surprising number—perhaps 5%—I was warned not to try logging: “site not trustworthy”. They were mostly obscure sites, but one was ThinkLinkr.com, which has a very nice outliner that I now will not be using. I’m not so willing to take chances as I once was, following this password-fixing effort. (I did try the URL of the untrustworthy sites in both Firefox and Chrome, and both browsers warned me away.)

LastPass has a number of quirks of its own, and I definitely plan to browse through the help document to get a better understanding of some of its decisions—for example, when you register to create an account, LastPass will often store that URL as the log-in URL, which of course does not work. From now on when I save a site with LastPass, I will definitely inspect the information stored to fix such errors. On the whole, though, the program is invaluable and it’s designed so that these little tweaks are easily done.

Really, since it can generate secure passwords on the fly as you create an account, there’s no sense in having “standard” passwords—except, I suppose, for sites that you visit from a variety of computers. But that doesn’t apply to me, so I have no excuse.

This sort of mind-deadening detail work in which you have to be careful and pay attention is draining, I find. I feel totally exhausted—but very glad that it’s done.

Do check shouldichangemypassword.com to verify that your email is not present among the (many) hacked accounts. Until businesses suffer for having poor security, this sort of thing will continue to happen: they don’t want to pay money to protect others from damage, only themselves. I personally think some laws are in order, given that the market has totally failed to address this problem.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2012 at 5:23 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Nuns working on response to Vatican rebuke

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It will be interesting in seeing how this plays out. The nuns seem to be approaching their duties from considering the precepts of Christ whereas the Vatican views the duties of the nuns based on demands and requirements of the organization. Laurie Goodstein reports in the NY Times:

American nuns are preparing to assemble in St. Louis next week for a pivotal meeting at which they will try to decide how to respond to a scathing critique of their doctrinal loyalty issued this spring by the Vatican — a report that has prompted Roman Catholics across the country to rally to the nuns’ defense.

The nuns will be weighing whether to cooperate with the three bishops appointed by the Vatican to supervise the overhaul of their organization, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents about 80 percent of women’s Catholic religious orders in the United States.

The Leadership Conference says it is considering at least six options that range from submitting graciously to the takeover to forming a new organization independent of Vatican control, as well other possible courses of action that lie between those poles.

What is in essence a power struggle between the nuns and the church’s hierarchy had been building for decades, church scholars say. At issue are questions of obedience and autonomy, what it means to be a faithful Catholic and different understandings of the Second Vatican Council.

Sister Pat Farrell, the president of the Leadership Conference, said in an interview that the Vatican seems to regard questioning as defiance, while the sisters see it as a form of faithfulness.

“We have a differing perspective on obedience,” Sister Farrell said. “Our understanding is that we need to continue to respond to the signs of the times, and the new questions and issues that arise in the complexities of modern life are not something we see as a threat.”

These same conflicts are gripping the Catholic Church at large. Nearly 50 years after the start of Vatican II, which was intended to open the church to the modern world and respond to the “signs of the times,” the church is gravely polarized between a progressive wing still eager for change and reform and a traditionalist flank focused on returning to what it sees as doctrinal fundamentals. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2012 at 9:58 am

Posted in Religion

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