Later On

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

Archive for February 16th, 2012

Helping you feel more secure (when the TSA’s not enough)

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This story in the LA Times certainly reassures me:

He came. He brought bombs. Kansas police let him go.

Mark it down as one of the odder-seeming terrorism scares in recent memory, at least thus far. On Wednesday morning, a Kansas state employee called police after noticing a funny-looking pickup truck parked in a restricted lot near the Statehouse.

Its hood was missing, and its front grill was crunched; it had a specialty Florida license plate solely for U.S. paratroopers; and it was smattered with bumper stickers that said such things as “Welcome to America. Now speak English.”

The truck also contained an empty gun holder — and several small homemade bombs designed to spray shrapnel, a Capitol Police spokesman said.

Police cleared the bombs from the area and, using the plate numbers, got a photo of the driver. They soon tracked him down in a tunnel between the Capitol and legislators’ offices. After interviewing the suspect, who Capitol Police said lives in Kansas and was unarmed, investigators searched his home. There, they said, they found bomb-making materials.

Open and shut case of potential terrorism, right? Not quite.

A day after the scare, the suspect, whom police will not identify, is free. In fact, according to Capt. Jimmie Atkinson of the Kansas Highway Patrol: “In this one, we did not actually take the suspect to jail and arrest him.”

Count that as one of the very few solid facts that’s been released thus far in a case that remains hazy.

When asked about the case Thursday morning, officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Kansas Highway Patrol and Topeka Police Department even seemed somewhat confused about who was in charge of the investigation.

Finally, by Thursday afternoon, Atkinson said: “We are going to be going forward with the charges because the [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] did not want to file charges.”

What charges would be filed? Atkinson wouldn’t say. Nor would he say why the suspect was at the Capitol.

Police said Wednesday that the man claimed to have an appointment inside the Capitol when confronted by the authorities, but no appointment was verified.

The apparent anti-immigrant stickers on the truck raised eyebrows, as the Kansas legislators were meeting that day to discuss contentious immigration legislation that would crack down on undocumented workers, who play a significant role in Kansas’ agricultural industry. A rally outside the Capitol drew about 300 protestors, according to a count by the Topeka Capitol-Journal.

When asked whether he thought the suspect, now free, posed any danger, Atkinson paused and then said he wouldn’t speculate. “Anybody could be dangerous,” he said. “I can say if we thought he’d be a continued threat, more than likely we would have kept him incarcerated, and we would have posted the bond then.”

He wouldn’t say any more.

Atkinson said the charges would be hashed out with the Shawnee County district attorney next week — the earliest day an appointment could be arranged.

Capitol Police said the suspect did not have any connection to another man who was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of making threatening phone calls to the governor.

Do you see the fiendish cleverness of the guy? He very cleverly did not drive the truck through the departing passengers line at an airport. Too scared. It’s working, people, it’s working. Soon we’ll have everything under control.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 February 2012 at 4:47 pm

Why you are a slave to business

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Because they know about you more than a rancher knows about his livestock. They allow you to be free-range because you really never leave their control. Charles Duhigg reports in the NY Times:

Andrew Pole had just started working as a statistician for Target in 2002, when two colleagues from the marketing department stopped by his desk to ask an odd question: “If we wanted to figure out if a customer is pregnant, even if she didn’t want us to know, can you do that? ”

Pole has a master’s degree in statistics and another in economics, and has been obsessed with the intersection of data and human behavior most of his life. His parents were teachers in North Dakota, and while other kids were going to 4-H, Pole was doing algebra and writing computer programs. “The stereotype of a math nerd is true,” he told me when I spoke with him last year. “I kind of like going out and evangelizing analytics.”

As the marketers explained to Pole — and as Pole later explained to me, back when we were still speaking and before Target told him to stop — new parents are a retailer’s holy grail. Most shoppers don’t buy everything they need at one store. Instead, they buy groceries at the grocery store and toys at the toy store, and they visit Target only when they need certain items they associate with Target — cleaning supplies, say, or new socks or a six-month supply of toilet paper. But Target sells everything from milk to stuffed animals to lawn furniture to electronics, so one of the company’s primary goals is convincing customers that the only store they need is Target. But it’s a tough message to get across, even with the most ingenious ad campaigns, because once consumers’ shopping habits are ingrained, it’s incredibly difficult to change them.

There are, however, some brief periods in a person’s life when old routines fall apart and buying habits are suddenly in flux. One of those moments — the moment, really — is right around the birth of a child, when parents are exhausted and overwhelmed and their shopping patterns and brand loyalties are up for grabs. But as Target’s marketers explained to Pole, timing is everything. Because birth records are usually public, the moment a couple have a new baby, they are almost instantaneously barraged with offers and incentives and advertisements from all sorts of companies. Which means that the key is to reach them earlier, before any other retailers know a baby is on the way. Specifically, the marketers said they wanted to send specially designed ads to women in their second trimester, which is when most expectant mothers begin buying all sorts of new things, like prenatal vitamins and maternity clothing. “Can you give us a list?” the marketers asked.

“We knew that if we could identify them in their second trimester, there’s a good chance we could capture them for years,” Pole told me. “As soon as we get them buying diapers from us, they’re going to start buying everything else too. If you’re rushing through the store, looking for bottles, and you pass orange juice, you’ll grab a carton. Oh, and there’s that new DVD I want. Soon, you’ll be buying cereal and paper towels from us, and keep coming back.”

The desire to collect information on customers is not new for Target or any other large retailer, of course. For decades, Target has collected vast amounts of data on every person who regularly walks into one of its stores. Whenever possible, Target assigns each shopper a unique code — known internally as the Guest ID number — that keeps tabs on everything they buy. “If you use a credit card or a coupon, or fill out a survey, or mail in a refund, or call the customer help line, or open an e-mail we’ve sent you or visit our Web site, we’ll record it and link it to your Guest ID,” Pole said. “We want to know everything we can.”

Also linked to your Guest ID is demographic information like your age, whether you are married and have kids, which part of town you live in, how long it takes you to drive to the store, your estimated salary, whether you’ve moved recently, what credit cards you carry in your wallet and what Web sites you visit. Target can buy data about your ethnicity, job history, the magazines you read, if you’ve ever declared bankruptcy or got divorced, the year you bought (or lost) your house, where you went to college, what kinds of topics you talk about online, whether you prefer certain brands of coffee, paper towels, cereal or applesauce, your political leanings, reading habits, charitable giving and the number of cars you own. (In a statement, Target declined to identify what demographic information it collects or purchases.) All that information is meaningless, however, without someone to analyze and make sense of it. That’s where Andrew Pole and the dozens of other members of Target’s Guest Marketing Analytics department come in.

Almost every major retailer, from grocery chains to investment banks to the U.S. Postal Service, has a “predictive analytics” department devoted to understanding not just consumers’ shopping habits but also their personal habits, so as to more efficiently market to them. “But Target has always been one of the smartest at this,” says Eric Siegel, a consultant and the chairman of a conference called Predictive Analytics World. “We’re living through a golden age of behavioral research. It’s amazing how much we can figure out about how people think now.”

The reason Target can snoop on our shopping habits is that, over the past two decades, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 February 2012 at 2:48 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Arcosanti today

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I remember when Arcosanti was a Big New Thing. Michael Tortorello in the NY Times takes a look at it today:

THE pilgrimage began with a black-and-white handbill on a campus bulletin board. At the top was a sketch of an ultramodern compound rising above a desert canyon: a city upon a hill.

Next came the manifesto. “If you are truly concerned about the problems of pollution, waste, energy depletion, land, water, air and biological conservation, poverty, segregation, intolerance, population containment, fear and disillusionment,” the poster began. Then, at the bottom, the remedy: “Join us.”

Occupying the middle of nowhere must have appealed to the students, architects and seekers of the 1970s who founded Arcosanti, an “urban laboratory” in the desert 70 miles north of Phoenix. After following a washboard road to the desolate camp, they would find a kind of kibbutz. Here, in workshops, they might build a 30-foot-high concrete vault or plant olive trees or cast bells in silt to sell for construction money.

Above all, they were able to join an ongoing colloquy with the city’s visionary designer, Paolo Soleri. In a cosmic language of his own invention (filled with phrases like the “omega seed” and “miniaturization-complexity-duration”), Mr. Soleri proselytized for a carless society in harmony with the natural world. Over the course of 40 years, some 7,000 souls would come and go.

For the most part, though, they left. And last fall, Mr. Soleri joined this group himself, retiring at age 92 as the president of the parent Cosanti Foundation.

Now, Arcosanti is experiencing its own version of Cuba’s “special period”: a transitional era of privation and possibility. And the man who would be Raúl Castro in this analogy is the foundation’s new president, Jeff Stein, 60, formerly dean of the Boston Architectural College.

As a resident of Arcosanti in its heyday, “he has all the qualities to be the guardian of the faith,” said Michel Sarda, 69, a foundation trustee and a publisher of Mr. Soleri’s books.

But if Mr. Stein can’t miraculously transform Arcosanti into a dense eco-city for 5,000 residents — and that was always Mr. Soleri’s plan — what should it become instead?

Mr. Sarda speaks enthusiastically about building a retirement tower for golf-shy retirees and the project’s alumni. Mr. Stein’s immediate proposals are more modest: a canopy for the outdoor amphitheater, a renovated commercial bakery, a storage unit for Mr. Soleri’s collection of fantastical architectural models and a half-dozen new apartments.

Whatever Mr. Stein may wish to do, for now it will have to be accomplished with an operating budget of less than $1 million. That annual sum includes payroll, utilities, food, building materials, insurance: everything. It is, by his estimation, about a 10th of what the community needs to build new housing and attract new residents and businesses. That is, to turn a somewhat derelict complex of a dozen-odd concrete structures into something more like a city.

His first job, perhaps, is to become an ambassador: to remind the world that Arcosanti exists as a going concern. Visitors (and some 25,000 stop here each year) often observe that this city of the future seems more like a city of the past. Part Mos Eisley, part Ozymandias. But that description fails to account for the 56 inspired souls who continue to live and work and dream in the Arcosanti that exists today.

One such latter-day disciple is Maureen Connaughton, 37, who until last year was a project manager in Philadelphia for a specialty fabrication company. On a cold Tuesday night in January, Ms. Connaughton was sitting with Mr. Stein and a few dozen of her fellow Arconauts in the dining hall, known as Crafts III in the local dialect, tucking into a community meal of breaded pork chops and fried tofu. They were bundled in sweaters and hats and Carhartt jackets. Mr. Soleri may have shown a genius for passive solar design, but at Arcosanti he didn’t really do central heat.

If you were an optimist, like Ms. Connaughton, who lives in an apartment beneath the cafe and dining hall, you might note that it’s easy to sleep in the cool Arizona winter. Yes, the building’s aging concrete has a habit of flaking onto your bed. But “what you get in exchange is just so worth it,” she said. “To have this big round window and look out at the canyon.”

At a fall building workshop here in 2010, she discovered . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 February 2012 at 1:08 pm

Posted in Daily life

Public files for 3-D printers

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It begins. Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 February 2012 at 12:44 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Wisdom, etc.

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At this point (age 72 and progressing) I should have access to a bountiful harvest of wisdom, but I’m not sure what it looks like. I did go out for a good sushi lunch, post-suffering: hamachi sashimi as part of a mixed sashimi plate, but also a little order of saba (mackerel sashimi). My sushi place, like any good sushi place, pickles its own saba, and they do quite a good job. That, a small order of nigiri sushi, a seaweed salad, and a small bottle of sake: I’m feeling rewarded for my pluck. I thank me for recognizing my need for a little feast.

One thing I noticed in terms of viewing things differently at this point: people inhabit their age only briefly: teens? Gone before you can find your footing—really, from 15 through 19 is about it, and then it’s over. The 20’s? You get one look at your early 20’s, in your late 20’s, but then you’re into your 30’s.

I look at movies of men in WW II: a totally overwhelming experience, very quickly things have changed and the survivors must find new roles and new uses for those memories and experiences.

Life keeps changing, and this stage of your life—whatever it is—cannot be viewed as a resting place: you instead must exploit what you’ve learned to date and ready yourself for the next step.

The take-home: Whatever you’re planning to do at this stage in your life, you’d better get a move on. You’re not here long, so get cracking. And learn efficiency as well as effectiveness. There’s really very little time.

Still, I do feel as though I’ve reached a spot at which I can enjoy the vista. Quite amazing.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 February 2012 at 12:43 pm

Posted in Daily life

Rick Santorum’s plans for your sex life

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It’s good to know that Rick will be taking care of our sex lives for us. Mr. Beetner passes along this link. It’s going to be quite a change under Rick. My only question is whether the government will take over Inquisitorial duties or outsource it to the Catholic church (experience) or HBR (equipment).

Written by LeisureGuy

16 February 2012 at 10:25 am

Good point: If the war’s over, we release prisoners of war

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Excellent column by Mary Dudziak in the NY Times:

THE defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta, recently announced that America hoped to end its combat mission in Afghanistan in 2013 as it did in Iraq last year.  Yet at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere, the United States continues to hold enemy detainees “for the duration of hostilities.”

Indeed, the “ending” of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq appears to have no consequences for the ending of detention. Because the end of a war is traditionally thought to be the moment when a president’s war powers begin to ebb, bringing combat to a close in Afghanistan and Iraq should lead to a reduction in executive power — including the legitimate basis for detaining the enemy.

But there is a disconnect today between the wars that are ending and the “war” that is used to justify ongoing detention of prisoners. Originally, the war in Afghanistan was part of the Bush administration’s “war on terror.”  This framing had rhetorical power, but it quickly drew criticism because a war on terror has no boundaries in space or time, and no prospect of ever ending.

When he took office, President Obama abandoned the “war on terror” rhetoric, focusing instead on Iraq and Afghanistan. American war now seemed more manageable and traditional. A confined war in a specific war zone was a war that presumably could end once the enemy was defeated within that territory. But it was not so simple: Qaeda fighters slipped over the Afghan border to Pakistan, extending the zone of conflict.

Ending wars has never been easy, of course. On the Korean Peninsula, fighting came to a halt with an armistice agreement in 1953, but a peace treaty has never been signed, so there has been no formal end to that war. Faced with continuing threats from North Korea, American troops continue to maintain a presence in South Korea. Had today’s logic been applied there, Korean prisoners of war might still be serving the rest of their years in detention.

During the Vietnam War, North Vietnamese soldiers also crossed a border, into Cambodia. But once that war came to an end, the basis for ongoing detention of North Vietnamese enemy soldiers ended, even if a cold war against communism continued.

America’s recent wars have been hard to end, but our presidents have done their best to argue that our goals have been accomplished. President George W. Bush did this memorably when he declared victory in Iraq in May 2003 on the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln under the banner “Mission Accomplished” — and yet that conflict was far from over.

President Obama had his own “Mission Accomplished” moment, when he declared the “end of combat in Iraq” in August 2010. Like Mr. Bush’s episode, Mr. Obama’s was principally a media event, as reporters spoke with excitement about the historic moment, as American combat troops crossed the border into Kuwait. Yet at the time, 50,000 United States troops remained in Iraq, and the Army quickly reassured them that, even though “conflict” had ended, “conflict conditions” persisted, and hence soldiers would still receive additional pay for serving in a hostile zone. That first “ending” of the Iraq war has now been largely forgotten, eclipsed by the December 2011 withdrawal — a much more extensive drawdown than initially planned.

The “end of combat” in Afghanistan, slated for 2013, could become yet another made-for-media event. But at the very least it should force Americans to confront the contradiction of ending two wars while invoking a nebulous and never-ending third one to justify the continued detention of prisoners. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 February 2012 at 10:11 am

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