Later On

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

It seems revealing that Trump has no pets

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I imagine that he doesn’t want any competition for attention. Plus loving a pet requires a kind of empathy, not a Trump strength. So: no pets.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2017 at 4:26 pm

The practical side of Jesus’ ukase on wealth

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Tejvan Pettinge writes in Economics Help:

Diminishing marginal utility of income and wealth suggests that as income increases, individuals gain a correspondingly smaller increase in satisfaction and happiness.

Utility means satisfaction, usefulness, happiness gained. Utility could be measured by the amount you are willing to spend on a good.

Marginal utility of first £100

If you have zero income, and gain £100 a week. This £100 will improve your living standards significantly. With this £100 you will be able to pay for basic necessity of life – food, drink, shelter and heating. Without this basic £100 a week, life would be tough.

Marginal utility of income increasing from £500 to £600 (6th £100)

However, if you already gain £500 a week, an extra £100 has a proportionately smaller increase in utility. You  may be able to eat out at restaurants more often, but it doesn’t significantly affect your standard of living and happiness. At £500 a week, you can afford most things you need. But, still most people would be happy to gain an extra £100 to spend on luxuries like going out.

Marginal utility of income increasing from £10,000 to £10,100

If you are earning £10,000 a week – you would hardly notice an extra £100 a week. You may not even have time or ability to spend it; this extra income is liable to be just saved. Therefore, we say the marginal utility of an extra £100 at this income level is very limited.

Therefore as income increases, the extra marginal benefit to individuals declines.

Diminishing marginal utility of wealth

Income is the amount of money received per time period. Wealth is a stock concept (the amount of savings, property owned)

It is a very similar effect with wealth. If you have savings of £10,000 – this can be useful for giving you insurance in periods of unemployment or the need to buy large items, like a new cooker. If you own one car, it can be useful for getting to work. Also, owning a house is a form of wealth and it is important for giving you a place to live.

However, suppose your wealth increases. If you now own two cars, the extra benefit is much diminished compared to the first car. It might be useful to have two cars in case one breaks down, but you can only drive one at a time. If you have 7 or 8 cars like a collector, you may get some joy from having a collection, but the extra utility of that 8th car is significantly lower than the working person who has just one car to get to work.

Positional wealth

Some economists argue that wealthy people can use their wealth primarily to gain feelings of prestige and show their position in society. For example, the utility of a £100,000 car is not because you get anywhere quicker, but because it becomes a status symbol – a symbol to show other people your success. Therefore, the utility to society is very minimal. . ..

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2017 at 4:24 pm

The true-crime book whose name I can never remember: “Deadly Intentions”

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It’s a hell of a book, summarized in this article, but much, much more in the book (secondhand copies here).

When you read it, you realize that the writer, the prosecuting attorney who sent the mad doctor away for 5 to 15, was anticipating that he himself would be a targeted victim of revenge, so he writes the book as if to say, “Anything happens to me, this is the guy to look at.”

I kept misremembering the title, thinking it was “With Malicious Intent” or “With Vicious Intent(ions).” But those two carry moral judgment, so a nonjudgmental phrase is “Deadly Intentions”: purpose defined but not judged.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2017 at 4:13 pm

Posted in Books, Law, Law Enforcement

Trump will kill Obamacare by making sure it doesn’t work

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Nothing easier: reassign people, underfund, and delay. Kevin Drum has an interesting post on how the Republican “No” votes were all over the map, and he includes this in the post:

. . . here’s how the Journal’s article begins:

With the collapse of Republicans’ health plan in the House on Friday, the Trump administration is set to ramp up its efforts to weaken the Affordable Care Act in one of the few ways it has left—by making changes to the law through waivers and rule changes.

Obamacare won’t implode on its own, but it might after Trump does everything he can to sabotage it.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2017 at 3:49 pm

Whatever you do, don’t say yes when this chatbot asks, ‘Can you hear me?’

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Earlier I blogged a section from this LA Times article by David Lazarus, but the whole thing is at the link. From the article:

. . . As the scam plays out, the recorded voice will raise the possibility of a vacation or cruise package, or maybe a product warranty. She’ll ask if you could answer a few questions. Or she’ll make it sound like her headset is still giving her trouble and say, “Can you hear me?”

Don’t say yes.

Police departments nationwide have warned recently that offering an affirmative response can be edited to make it seem you’ve given permission for a purchase or some other transaction. There haven’t been many reports of losses, but a Washington State man reportedly got bilked for about $100.

A recorded “yes” could also could be used to deny refunds to any consumer who complains.

“If someone calls and asks, ‘Can you hear me?’, do not answer yes,” advised the Better Business Bureau. “Just hang up. Scammers change their tactics as the public catches on, so be alert for other questions designed to solicit a simple yes answer.”

Walker, the UC Santa Cruz computer wiz, has been teaching computers how to speak since the 1980s, when she worked as a researcher for the Natural Language Project at Hewlett Packard Laboratories in Palo Alto. She’s also done stints at Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories in Cambridge, Mass., and AT&T Labs in New Jersey.

Talking machines have been epitomized for years by the automated switchboards that drive most consumers crazy. But Walker said we’re seeing the next iteration of speech technology in the likes of Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa — devices that can respond to users’ requests and, to a limited extent, give the impression of conversation.

The next step, she said, will be computers that respond to voice commands to perform multiple tasks across multiple websites or platforms. For example, booking airline seats, a hotel and a rental car without a human having to look at a screen or touch a keyboard. . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2017 at 3:17 pm

The Department of Veterans Affairs built perhaps the most important medical computer system in history. Now it’s about to spend billions to throw it away.

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Note: Links currently do not work in my Chrome browser. (They work fine in Firefox.)

Arthur Allen writes in Politico:

Four decades ago, in 1977, a conspiracy began bubbling up from the basements of the vast network of hospitals belonging to the Veterans Administration. Across the country, software geeks and doctors were puzzling out how they could make medical care better with these new devices called personal computers. Working sometimes at night or in their spare time, they started to cobble together a system that helped doctors organize their prescriptions, their CAT scans and patient notes, and to share their experiences electronically to help improve care for veterans.

Within a few years, this band of altruistic docs and nerds—they called themselves “The Hardhats,” and sometimes “the conspiracy”—had built something totally new, a system that would transform medicine. Today, the medical-data revolution is taken for granted, and electronic health records are a multibillion-dollar industry. Back then, the whole idea was a novelty, even a threat. The VA pioneers were years ahead of their time. Their project was innovative, entrepreneurial and public-spirited—all those things the government wasn’t supposed to be.

Of course, the government tried to kill it.

Though the system has survived for decades, even topping the lists of the most effective and popular medical records systems, it’s now on the verge of being eliminated: The secretary of what is now the Department of Veterans Affairs has already said he wants the agency to switch over to a commercial system. An official decision is scheduled for July 1. Throwing it out and starting over will cost $16 billion, according to one estimate.

What happened? The story of the VA’s unique computer system—how the government actually managed to build a pioneering and effective medical data network, and then managed to neglect it to the point of irreparability—is emblematic of how politics can lead to the bungling of a vital, complex technology. As recently as last August, a Medscape survey of 15,000 physicians found that the VA system, called VistA, ranked as the most usable and useful medical records system, above hundreds of other commercial versions marketed by hotshot tech companies with powerful Washington lobbyists. Back in 2009, some of the architects of the Affordable Care Act saw VistA as a model for the transformation of American medical records and even floated giving it away to every doctor in America.

Today, VistA is a whipping boy for Congress; the VA’s senior IT leadership and its overseers in the House and Senate are all sharpening their knives for the system, which they caricature as a scruffy old nag that fails the veterans riding on it. Big commercial companies are circling, each one putting forward its own proprietary technology as the answer to the VA’s woes. The VA leadership seems to agree with them. “We need to move towards commercially tested products,” VA Secretary David Shulkin told a congressional committee on March 7. “If somebody could explain to me why veterans benefit from VA being a good software developer, then maybe I’d change my mind.”

You’d have to be a very brave VA administrator, and perhaps a foolhardy one, to keep VistA in 2017: The system’s homegrown structure creates security and maintenance challenges; a huge amount of talent has fled the agency, and many Congress members are leery of it. Because it serves nearly 9 million veterans at 167 hospitals and 1,700 sites of care, however, the wrangling over VistA concerns much more than just another computer software system. The men and women who created and shaped VistA over the decades were pathfinders in efforts to use data to reshape the multi-trillion-dollar U.S. health care system. Much of what they’ve done continues to serve veterans well; it’s an open question whether the Beltway solution to replacing VistA, and the billions that will be spent pursuing it, will result in a system that serves the VA—and the nation—as well in the long run.

What’s clear, though, is that the whole story of how VistA was born, grew and slid into disrepair illustrates just how difficult it can be for the government to handle innovation in its midst.

YOU COULD SAY that VistA—which stands for the Veterans Information Systems and Technology Architecture—began as a giant hack.

Its birth occurred in 1977, far back in the era of paper medical records, with a pair of computer nerds from the National Bureau of Standards. Ted O’Neill and Marty Johnson had helped standardize a computer language, originally developed at Massachusetts General Hospital, called MUMPS, and the two men were hired by the VA to see whether MUMPS could be the basis of a new computer system connecting the VA’s hospitals. Computerizing the one-on-one art of medical care seemed like a sacrilege at the time, but the VA, struggling with casualties of the Vietnam War, was underfunded, disorganized and needed all the help it could get.

O’Neill and Johnson began recruiting other techies to the effort, some of whom were already working in VA hospitals in places such as St. Petersburg, Florida; Lexington, Kentucky; and San Francisco. Though they were on an official mission, their approach—highly decentralized, with different teams trying things in various hospitals—ran against the grain of a big bureaucracy and aroused the suspicions of the central office. The project soon had the feeling of a conspiracy, something that nonconformists did in secret. They gave themselves an internal nickname—the Hardhats. People who followed the project recall being struck by just how idealistic it was. “This will sound a bit hokey, but they saw a way to improve health care at less cost than was being proposed in the central office,” says Nancy Tomich, a writer who was covering VA health care at the time. As bureaucratic battles mounted, she says, “I remember how impressed I was by these dedicated people who put their personal welfare on the line.”

In 1978, with personal computers just starting to appear in the homes of nerdy hobbyists, the Hardhats bought thousands of personal data processors and distributed them throughout the VA. Software geeks and physicians were soon exploring how patient care could be improved with these new devices. A scheduling system was built in Oklahoma City, while technicians in Columbia, Missouri, built a radiology program, and the Washington, D.C., VA’s Hardhats worked on a cardiology program. In Silicon Valley, Steve Wozniak was building a computer in his garage that would overturn an industry; at the VA, these unsung rebels were doing something that was equally disruptive in its own way—and threatening to the VA’s central computer office, which had a staff and budget hundreds of times greater and planned to service the data-processing needs of the VA hospitals and clinics by means of leased lines to regional mainframe centers. While the bureaucrats in the central office had their own empire, Tomich recalled, the Hardhats—some of them straight-looking guys with burr haircuts and pocket pen protectors, some scruffy, bearded dudes in T-shirts—were “in the field planting seeds, raising crops and things were blossoming,’’ she says.

The Hardhats’ key insight—and the reason VistA still has such dedicated fans today—was that the system would work well only if they brought doctors into the loop as they built their new tools. In fact, it would be best if doctors actually helped build them. Pre-specified computer design might work for an airplane or a ship, but a hospital had hundreds of thousands of variable processes. You needed a “co-evolutionary loop between those using the system and the system you provide them,” says one of the early converts, mathematician Tom Munnecke, a polymathic entrepreneur and philanthropist who joined the VA hospital in Loma Linda, California, in 1978.

So rather than sitting in an office writing code and having the bureaucracy implement it, the computer scientists fanned out to doctors’ offices to figure out what they needed. Doctors with a feel for technology jumped into the fray. “I got involved because it solved my problems,” says Ross Fletcher, a cardiologist at the Washington, D.C., VA—where he is now chief of staff—since 1972. Working in close consultation with their clinical partners, sometimes coding at home at night or in their spare time, the computer experts built software that enabled doctors to legibly organize their prescriptions, CAT scans and patient notes, and to share their experiences electronically. Fletcher, who had studied a little computer science in college, worked with a software developer to help create an electronic EKG record. “The technical staff was embedded with clinical staff. I had lunch with the doctors, and in the parking lot in the morning we’d report what we’d done the night before,” says Munnecke.

Munnecke, a leading Hardhat, remembers it as an exhilarating time. He used a PDP11/34 computer with 32 kilobytes of memory, and stored his programs, development work and his hospital’s database on a 5-megabyte disk the size of a personal pizza. One day, Munnecke and a colleague, George Timson, sat in a restaurant and sketched out a circular diagram on a paper place mat, a design for what initially would be called the Decentralized Hospital Computer Program, and later VistA. MUMPs computer language was at the center of the diagram, surrounded by a kernel of programs used by everyone at the VA, with applications floating around the fringes like electrons in an atom. MUMPS was a ludicrously simple coding language that could run with limited memory and great speed on a low-powered computer. The architecture of VistA was open, modular and decentralized. All around the edges, the apps flourished through the cooperation of computer scientists and doctors.

“We didn’t call it ‘agile development,’ but it was agile,” says Howard Hayes, another VA IT veteran who served as CIO for the Indian Health Service, which adopted VistA. “Tight relationships between user and programmer, and sometimes they were one and the same.” Instead of top-down goals and project sign-offs, teams of techies and doctors kept working to improve the system. “The developer did something, the user tried it, called him up or walked down the hall and says ‘It really needs to do this.’ The next day they had another build,” says Hayes.

The VA’s centralized computer department, which relied on contractors, was not amused. Its leadership wanted control, and they believed, with a position remarkably similar to current-day criticisms of the VA’s IT work, that it made more sense to let the outside experts move the ball than have “garages” full of unconventional nerds and upstart doctors. The Hardhats were sharing records among doctors and hospitals. They were digitizing X-ray images. They were doing everything much less expensively and more successfully than the central office. They had to be stopped. In 1979, Ted O’Neill was fired (he drove a cab for a while, and later became a real estate agent). The main Hardhats office was shut down, and “pretty much everybody in the Washington part of the organization headed for the hills,” says Munnecke.

But, remarkably, the project didn’t die. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2017 at 10:00 am

Chiseled Face Midnight Stag and the Rockwell R4

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Extremely good shave today. Brush selected in solidarity with a friend’s father-in-law in South Korea. (Long story.) The bush is a Maggard 24mm synthetic.

Midnight Stag is an unusual but pleasing fragrance: Russian Leather, Motor Oil, Hoppes #9, Birch Tar, Oakmoss, Gasoline, Smoke, Cedar, Cade, Bergamont, Vanilla. The ingredients:

Stearic Acid, Aloe Vera Juice, Potassium Hydroxide, Beef Tallow, Coconut Oil, Castor Oil, Glycerin, Fragrance, Mango Butter, Avocado Oil, Silk Powder

The lather was excellent, and the Rockwell 6S remains a favorite razor: top-notch in all respects. I started with the R3 plate as my standard, but now use the R4. All plates are comfortable and efficient, and this morning I easily got a BBS result with no trace of a nick—indeed, no close calls.

A good splash of Midnight Stag aftershave, and the weekend begins.

A commenter pointed out that the upcoming Rockwell Model T adjustable will include some cast zinc-alloy parts. From the Kickstarter update post: “The new materials for the production that will ship to the backers will consist of an internal stainless steel rod, 12 parts of machined chromed brass, and 4 cast chromed zinc alloy parts.” Gareth explained in an email to me:

Changing those 4 (of 17) parts to zinc alloy was an unfortunate consequence of the cast brass tolerances simply not producing a razor that functioned properly in full production. . . Gillette’s all-brass razors were stamped brass, and then chromed. We were attempting to use cast brass, which unfortunately does not produce tight enough tolerances in full production for the Model T to function as intended. Brass stamping is what create the well-known variability between Gillette adjustable models, and in some cases between units of the same models, which is an affect we wanted to avoid.

I was initially taken aback by the news, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Rockwell knows more about the production process and its requirements than I ever will, and I believe in their intentions to deliver a quality product that matches the high standard set by the final version of the 6S. My belief is based on their response to the initial 6S problems (when they attempted to use cast stainless steel), which involved finding a better way to do it and replacing all the razors of the unsatisfactory first run. In other words, Rockwell has proven itself to be trustworthy, so I trust them. I’m looking forward to the shipment of the Model T in late July (the usual Kickstarter production slip due to the mismatch between optimistic plans and harsh reality—e.g., the discovery that the cast-brass head would not work).

So my own decision is to stick with the Model T. Gareth mentioned that he is looking at an all-stainless Model T, which presumably would be more expensive, and that will be interesting to see. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the current model T—stainless steel, brass, and zinc alloy, each selected for being able to do the job well and also be manufacturable.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2017 at 9:43 am

Posted in Shaving

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