Later On

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

Archive for May 2nd, 2014

Another good “why”: “Why Is Asbestos Still Killing People?”

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Why?, indeed. Very interesting article. Somewhat terrifying.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2014 at 5:52 pm

Interesting comment on how Steve Jobs was the opposite of a mensch

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The article is here, and worth reading if you have an interest in Apple in particular or technology in general. The comment:

James Murray
CA 6 minutes ago

This sad reality check simply bolsters what I’ve come to realize about Apple products (their workstations and laptops in particular) — there’s an ingenious and subtle planned obsolescence in these otherwise beautiful machines (I’m writing this comment on a 27″ iMac) . . . after ~ 3 years it becomes virtually impossible to maintain the computer in a “current” state, as upgrades to Apple software (particularly Apple’s OS X operating system) outstrip the computers’ hardware capacities. Compared to Windows workstations (love them or loathe them), there are extremely limited options to keep the Apple functional on in practical sense beyond about four years . . . which then mandates another purchase of $1500 or more. (Exquisitely designed revenue stream!)

It’s akin to your favorite high-end automaker changing the fundamental chemical composition of gasoline every few years (always for the “better”), while your engine compartment is for all intents and purpose a sealed space (try making a hardware upgrade on an iMac) . . . your only choice becomes to buy a new model.

I’m not advocating Windows over Mac (God forbid) – in fact I recently purchased my first Mac after several years of performing IT support in a large institution with large numbers of both Mac & Windows computers); many (but not all) aspects of Macs surpass Windows machines.

Still, it’s worth pointing out that Saint Jobs knew EXACTLY what he was doing, and it wasn’t necessarily altruistic, for the public’s good.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2014 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Law

Proper use of “Why”: ” Why America’s Essentials Are Getting More Expensive While Its Toys Are Getting Cheap”

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And a very interesting article it is, too.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2014 at 5:23 pm

“Why” confused with “how”: regarding laughter, real and faked

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This article asks the question  “Why is laughter so hard to fake?” and proceeds to completely ignore the question raised to address, in some interesting detail, how we can distinguish fake from real laughter. The answer to “why” is obvious: because being able to distinguish real from fake laughter conveys an evolutionary advantage, so we tend to get good at it. The percentage right, substantially less than 100%, provides room for the evolutionary advantage of being able to fake laughter well. Being able to fake 100% and the detect 100% is the ideal; the actual reflects the net of how well we can fake laughter and how well we can detect fake laughter, each skill conveying a survival advantage.

And indeed, the article mentions, in passing and at the close:

Detecting feigned laughter is an important survival tool. “You have to be vigilant,” Bryant says, “because you want to discern whether people are trying to manipulate you against your best interests or whether they have authentic cooperative intentions.”

At last! The answer to the question the title asked.

And yes, the headline was probably written by a different guy. It’s still the wrong headline to use.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2014 at 5:12 pm

Posted in Science, Writing

The story of Barbasol

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Wicked_Edge shavers almost to a person (man or woman) use traditional shaving lather, made by a shaving brush from shaving soap or shaving cream, but if someone really wants to use a canned shaving foam, the most common recommendation is Barbasol. Indeed, Barbasol gets high praise, and some use it whenever they are pressed for time. As I write this, I’m thinking that I should probably pick up a can myself, just to give it a go.

Reader Phil E. pointed out this fascinating history of how Barbasol came to be and how it was profitable enough for the advertising genius who created the brand  to purchase his own private island. His partner was the guy who created the product.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2014 at 5:05 pm

Posted in Business, Shaving

US Border Patrol: An organization out of control

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No one really seems to be in charge at the US Border Patrol, so agents do as they please—and some do very bad things. Tim Johnson reports for McClatchy:

A series of lawsuits filed in recent months in federal courts along the U.S. border with Mexico highlight what advocates say is a growing list of complaints against two U.S. agencies that have expanded rapidly amid the clamor to secure the nation’s borders.

In one lawsuit, centered on events in Chula Vista, Calif., a Border Patrol agent is accused of leaping on the hood of a car driven by a mother of five and shooting her dead. She was unarmed. The agent had been fired from his previous job as a sheriff’s deputy for a variety of misconduct.

In a second case, a Customs officer in Brownsville, Texas, violently pushed a disabled woman to the ground. She had a miscarriage the next day. Border officers also had to call firefighters to remove handcuffs that allegedly had bound her wrists too tightly.

For a third woman, her return to the United States was intrusive and painful. She was pulled from a line at an El Paso, Texas, border crossing, apparently on the suspicion that she was carrying drugs. She was handcuffed. Over the next six hours, agents escorted her to a hospital, where they oversaw the probing of her anus and vagina, forced her to take a laxative and then watched as she moved her bowels. When no drugs were found, they ordered her to submit to an X-ray and a CT scan.

When the ordeal was over, the officers asked her to sign a consent form before they allowed her to return to her home in New Mexico. When she refused, the hospital billed her thousands of dollars for the procedures.

Critics say the lawsuits, all three filed by U.S. citizens, are part of a pattern that’s become endemic to the nation’s efforts to secure its southern border. In addition to complaints that U.S. Border Patrol agents have used deadly force when their lives were not at risk _ agents have killed 21 people since the beginning of 2010, most of them unarmed migrants _ agents from the two federal agencies that monitor the borders stand accused of mistreating American citizens.

Violent confrontations are only part of the picture. U.S. citizens who live along the border complain that U.S. agents have become a virtual interior police force _ disrespectful of private property, looking for pretexts to search vehicles and detaining residents for hours at checkpoints.

“In the last three years, the Border Patrol has caused me more damage than the illegals,” said John Ladd, whose family has operated a ranch in southeast Arizona for the past 118 years. “They’ve abused private property rights immensely.”

Fueling the problems, critics say, has been the agencies’ rapid expansion, which has led to poor hiring and training and an institutional unwillingness to acknowledge agents’ mistakes that encourages the frequent use of physical violence. One lawyer who deals with the agencies accuses them of nurturing “an overly aggressive, bullying culture.” . . .

Continue reading.

Consider, for example, this incident from the article:

One advocacy group, No More Deaths, which provides food, water and medical care to migrants, said it had lodged 90 complaints in recent years with the DHS’s civil rights office, accusing agents of unlawful searches, excessive force and lengthy detentions at Border Patrol checkpoints and by roving Border Patrol units, which operate up to 100 miles from the border.

In nearly all cases, the DHS office hasn’t responded for months, then has dismissed the complaint “because there is no evidence in their records” pertaining to it, said No More Deaths’ spokesman, Geoffrey Boyce, a doctoral candidate in geography at the University of Arizona.

“It doesn’t seem to be the case that they understand limits to their authority,” Boyce said. “There’s a general feeling that this is an agency that’s not only not interested in community concerns but often appears contemptuous of them.”

Others have filed complaints with the DHS over what they say is the routine violation of civil rights by Border Patrol agents. In January, James Lyall, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union in Arizona, complained to the DHS’s deputy inspector general that some Border Patrol agents falsely tell U.S. citizens they’ve detained that they can’t make phone calls or take videos of searches of their vehicles.

“Multiple citizens have reported being told by agents, ‘You have no rights here,’ or that refusal to consent to a search gives agents probable cause for a search,” Lyall said in his Jan. 15 letter, which detailed the case of a 61-year-old retiree who was stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint one day last December. When an agent opened a car door and directed a drug-sniffing dog to enter, the retiree objected.

“Shut your f—ing mouth,” the retiree was told, according to the letter.

In written comments to McClatchy, a spokesman for the two agencies, Douglas Mosier, rejected allegations that abuses have become systemic. He also rejected charges that the rapid growth of the agencies in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has led to an erosion of hiring standards and the use of excessive force. He, as well as other spokesmen for the Border Patrol and the DHS, declined to address the specifics of any abuse allegations.

“CBP stresses honor and integrity in every aspect of our mission and always regrets the loss of life. An overwhelming majority of CBP employees and officers perform their day-to-day duties with honor and distinction,” he said. “We do not tolerate corruption or abuse within our ranks.”

Even some defenders of the agencies raise questions about how they’ve handled Congress’ demand for ever more agents as the need for more border security has become a largely unchallenged article of faith on Capitol Hill. The rapid expansion has made it impossible to vet new agents properly or train them thoroughly, they say. In the last seven years, the Border Patrol has doubled in size to 21,370 agents; Customs and Border Protection, already with 21,650 officers, is mandated to add 4,000 more over the next two years.

“They boosted the size of the Border Patrol immensely in a very short period of time,” said Jim Dorcy, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Retired Border Patrol Officers, a civic and social group. “Some guys have been on the job two or three years and they have not had a background check. They’ve even hired illegal aliens.”

The growth should have occurred more slowly and it “should’ve been an evolutionary process,” Dorcy added. “Congress I blame more than anyone. . . . No patience at all. They wanted it done overnight.”

Poor hiring may have been at the root of the lawsuit filed last Oct. 1 over the Sept. 22, 2012, death of Valeria Tachiquin, a 32-year-old mother of five, in Chula Vista, a San Diego suburb that butts up against the border across from Tijuana, Mexico. Tachiquin grew up in San Diego County.

Plainclothes Border Patrol agents went to an apartment to pick up a male felon who’d been deported but had returned. When the agents arrived, Tachiquin walked out of the apartment and got into her blue Honda.

Agents tried to stop her from leaving, although her attorney, Eugene Iredale, says they had no legal basis to arrest her. Among the agents was Justin Tackett, a Border Patrol agent with a troubled work history.

Tachiquin was unarmed, although an autopsy later determined that she had methamphetamine in her system.

As Tachiquin tried to drive off, Tackett brandished his service firearm and jumped on the hood of her car, waving the gun and shouting. The lawsuit says Tachiquin stopped the car and Tackett got off the hood. She put her car in reverse.

“Even though not in danger of death or serious bodily injury, Tackett fired his government-issued semiautomatic firearm again and again, walking forward as he fired at the retreating Valeria,” the complaint says. He shot her nine times.

The death drew attention to Tackett, who’d worked for nearly three years as a sheriff’s deputy in Imperial County, east of San Diego, then resigned in 2003 before a notice of termination could take effect that declared him unfit for the job.

The notice cited “unprofessional conduct, dishonesty, violation of or refusal to obey reasonable regulations, insubordination, violation of rules, incompetence and failure to follow proper procedures of arrest, search and seizure and treatment of persons in custody.”

In one incident, Tackett turned the heat on in his squad car and locked a suspect inside as the outside temperature climbed to 102 degrees, San Diego’s ABC 10News reported. Tackett was also accused of defying orders not to conduct random probation checks and warrantless searches of people he stopped, as well as reckless driving that led to four accidents, including the rollover of a cruiser.

After leaving his Imperial County job, Tackett took a position as a community liaison for now-retired U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who during a 28-year career on Capitol Hill became the powerful chair of the House Armed Services Committee and a strong proponent of expanding the Border Patrol. Hunter recommended Tackett for his Border Patrol position.

Joe Kasper, a spokesman for the former legislator, said he recalled Tackett as “energetic” and that he “did a good job.” Kasper remains the spokesman for Hunter’s successor, his son, Duncan Hunter Jr., who also is a strong proponent of expanding the Border Patrol.

The DHS declined to comment on Tackett’s case. He remains on the job, said a spokesman, Tim Hamill, a fact that incenses Tachiquin’s father, Valentin Tachiquin, a corrections officer for the California state prison system.

“He should never have been given a badge or a gun,” Valentin Tachiquin said. Had he made a similar error, Tachiquin said, “I’d be out of the job. Not only that, I’d be in prison.”

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2014 at 11:52 am

How the Egyptians move the giant stone blocks for the pyramids

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They used sledges and wet the sand as they went. The picture in the article shows a contemporaneous wall painting. Note that the stone (a statue in the painting) is being pulled by 60 men.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2014 at 9:57 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Genes: Not what we expected

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Things always seem to be more complex than expected as one delves more deeply into them. Take genes, for example: Michael White writes in Pacific Standard:

Today, DNA is central to modern biology, but scarcely a century ago biologists were debating whether or not genes actually existed. In his 1909 textbook on heredity, Danish botanist Wilhelm Johannsen coined the term gene to refer to that hereditary “something” that influences the traits of an organism, but without making a commitment to any hypothesis about what that “something” was. Just over a decade later, a prominent biologist could still note that some people viewed genes as “a convenient fiction or algebraic symbolism.”

As the century progressed, biologists came to see genes as real physical objects. They discovered that genes have a definite size, that they are linearly arrayed on chromosomes, that individual genes are responsible for specific chemical events in the cell, and that they are made of DNA and written in the language of the Genetic Code. By the time the Human Genome Project was initiated in 1988, researchers knew that a gene was a segment of DNA with a clear beginning and end and that it acted by directing the production of a particular enzyme or other molecule that did a specific job in the cell. As real things, genes are countable, and in 1999 biologists estimated that humans had “80,000 or so” of them.

Yet, when the dust from the Human Genome Project cleared, we didn’t have nearly so many genes as we thought. By the latest count, we have 20,805 conventional genes that encode enzymes and other proteins. Our inflated gene count, though, wasn’t the only casualty of the Human Genome Project. The very idea of a gene as a well-defined segment of DNA with a clear functional role has also taken a hit, and as a result, our understanding of our relationship with our genes is changing.

One major challenge to the concept of a gene is the growing evidence that many genes are shapeshifters. Instead of a well-defined segment of DNA that encodes a single protein with a clear function, we should view a gene as “a polyfunctional entity that assumes different forms under different cellular states,” according to University of Washington biologist John Stamatoyannopoulos. While researchers have long known that genes are made up of discrete subunits called “exons,” they hadn’t realized until recently the degree to which exons are assembled—like Legos—into sometimes thousands of different combinations. With new technologies, biologists are cataloging these various combinations, but in most cases they don’t know whether those combinations all serve the same function, different functions, or no function at all.

Our concept of a gene is also challenged by the fact that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2014 at 9:55 am

Posted in Evolution, Science

Not exactly a free market: Maryland gun dealer decides not to sell smart gun after death threats

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Gun enthusiasts I picture as in general being politically conservative, proud of the US, and staunch defenders of the free market, but apparently there are some who really hate the idea of a free market, in which individuals separately decide what goods and services they want to buy. Consider this story by Michael Rosenwald in the Washingotn Post:

A Rockville gun store owner who said he would sell the nation’s first smart gun — even after a California gun store removed the weapon from its shelves to placate angry gun-rights activists — backed down late Thursday night after enduring a day of protests and death threats.

Andy Raymond, the co-owner of Engage Armament, a store known for its custom assault rifles, had said earlier this week that offering the Armatix iP1 handgun was a “really tough decision” after what happened to the Oak Tree Gun Club near Los Angeles. Oak Tree was lambasted by gun owners and National Rifle Association members who fear the new technology will be mandated and will encroach on Second Amendment rights.

Electronic chips in the gun communicate with a watch that can be bought separately. The gun cannot be fired without the watch.

Oak Tree denied having anything to do with the weapon, despite pictures of the gun for sale in its shop and a special firing range built just for the weapon.

“If the same reaction happens here, we’ll be out of business,” Raymond had said in an interview. He had said he was willing to risk selling the gun because Maryland, with its strict gun-control laws, “has already essentially put us out of business.” He also believes that firearms such as Armatix’s will expand the market to people who want an ultra-safe gun.

But after hundreds of protests on his store’s Facebook page and online forums — a repeat of what Oak Tree faced — Raymond released a long video on the Facebook page saying he had received death threats and would not sell the gun. He apologized and took responsibility for the decision. He had sold none of the smart guns and would not, he said.

Earlier, Raymond had said he’s on the “right-wing vanguard of gun rights” but is vehemently opposed to gun rights activists arguing against the idea of a smart gun — or any gun.

“To me that is so fricking hypocritical,” Raymond had said. “That’s the antithesis of everything that we pro-gun, pro-Second Amendment people should be. You are not supposed to say a gun should be prohibited. Then you are being no different than the anti-gun people who say an AR-15 should be prohibited.” . . .

Continue reading.

Apparently it would be okay to make this gun illegal? Later in the story are several comments from gun-owners who believe that a .22 caliber pistol, shooting regular .22 rimfire cartridges that requires wearing a bracelet, is a good choice for a self-defense weapon, a position I don’t really understand. Take this passage:

Someone needs to make an iPhone app to jam” the technology on smart guns, one poster wrote. “Anyone who was even considering buying one would not if anyone with a smart phone could jam their gun. That should kill the market for them.”

Another wrote: “My watch has a dead battery . . . do I die in a gun fight?”

The writers apparently were unable to grasp that, given the concerns they raise, the smart gun would not be the weapon of choice for self-defense. But apparently (in their view) ALL guns must be suitable for self-defense. I had a wonderful single-shot Baikal IZH 46M Match Air Pistol  (pictured below). I can imagine their outrage at this gun: totally unsuitable as a self-defense weapon and thus (presumably) should not be sold. Only guns that can be used in a gun fight should be allowed.

Baikal IZH

I continue to be astonished at the reaction of some of these gun advocates. Death threats as a free-market tool. Weird.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2014 at 9:47 am

Posted in Guns

Why economics failed

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Paul Krugman has an interesting column today. It’s frustrating to know that the suffering of this latest great recession was to a great extent easily avoidable if we had smarter and wiser political leaders. Krugman writes:

On Wednesday, I wrapped up the class I’ve been teaching all semester: “The Great Recession: Causes and Consequences.” (Slides for the lectures are available via my blog.) And while teaching the course was fun, I found myself turning at the end to an agonizing question: Why, at the moment it was most needed and could have done the most good, did economics fail?

I don’t mean that economics was useless to policy makers. On the contrary, the discipline has had a lot to offer. While it’s true that few economists saw the crisis coming — mainly, I’d argue, because few realized how fragile our deregulated financial system had become, and how vulnerable debt-burdened families were to a plunge in housing prices — the clean little secret of recent years is that, since the fall of Lehman Brothers, basic textbook macroeconomics has performed very well.

But policy makers and politicians have ignored both the textbooks and the lessons of history. And the result has been a vast economic and human catastrophe, with trillions of dollars of productive potential squandered and millions of families placed in dire straits for no good reason.

In what sense did economics work well? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2014 at 8:49 am

Good shave, but a few nicks

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SOTD 2 May 2014

 

Very nice shave today, albeit with a few nicks: either technique or blade is the problem (or both). I did shave without taking a lot of care, so probably technique.

The Brent brush in the photo is a very soft brush, but the lather it make from Trumper’s Violet shaving cream this morning was superb: thick and luxurious and built up in a long sheet on the razor, cohering nicely. Nicks were on upper lip and chin, but as usual My Nik Is Sealed was readily up to the task.

A good splash of Bulgarian rose aftershave from Saint Charles Shave, and we are perched on the verge of the weekend.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2014 at 7:53 am

Posted in Shaving

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