Later On

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

Archive for October 25th, 2014

Why Europe is doomed, in 3 paragraphs

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Here are the paragraphs, from a Reuters story:

According to German officials, Merkel felt betrayed by Draghi’s speech at a central banking conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in August in which he pressed Berlin for looser fiscal policy to stimulate the economy.

Her entourage is also deeply skeptical about Draghi’s plan to buy up asset-backed securities (ABS) and covered bonds in the hope of encouraging commercial banks to lend.

Most of all, politicians in Berlin worry that if this scheme doesn’t work, the ECB president will be tempted to launch full-blown government bond buying, or quantitative easing. This is a taboo in Germany and a step Merkel’s allies fear would play into the hands of the country’s new anti-euro party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Matt O’Brien explains in the Washington Post Wonkblog.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2014 at 7:13 pm

When Abu-Ghraib is on the other foot

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I wonder how much of this is driven by well-known US atrocities such as Abu-Ghraib, the sergeant who went on a massacre of Afghan civilians, the total destruction of the two anti-Taliban town councils, the number of civilians (including wedding parties) killed in drone attacks, the well-known examples of torture by the US (183 waterboardings for one prisoner, for example),  the entire Iraq War and aftermath, and on and on. Certainly those do not in any way justify what ISIS is doing, but it perhaps can explain the source (and origin) of some of their anger. It’s not as though actions do not have consequences. The US cannot go around the world, conducting itself in such a fashion, and not expect pushback. That would be, IMO, unrealistic.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2014 at 3:45 pm

Neuroscientists Are Fed Up With the Brain Training Industry

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TL;DR: Brain training is a total scam, roughly on the same level as training your aura. Interesting, though: it highlights the conflict of science and business in terms of priority of values. In a way, it’s like the marketing/engineering conflict describe in my previous post, but in this case it’s not simply a matter of optics, it’s a matter of money. The IBM marketing guy simply wanted the customer to feel better as IBM siphoned off as much money as they could. And they were tough—thus the consent decree.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2014 at 3:15 pm

Posted in Business, Science

Have we already hitting the “slow lane” problem on the Internet? – Nope

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UPDATE: Reader Chris R from Thailand emailed me the solution. It’s a POODLE attack. He suggested a number of add-ons, two of which I already had, but they were not sufficient:

This I already had:  *Adblock Plus**2.6*
This I added: *Adblock Plus Pop-up Addon 0.9.2*
This I added: *No Google Analytics 0.6*
This I already had: *Disconnect* 3.14
This I added: *SSL Version Control 0.2*  from Firefox (I think this foils the POODLE attack.)

Once those were in place, the problem cleared.  /UPDATE

Original post follows:

I use two browsers so I can flip between them for blogging. I browse in Google Chrome and blog in Firefox.

Over the past several days I’ve noticed that Firefox connection times (for all the little connections that seem to be require for any action) are WAY longer th han they used to be—like, I have to go do something else—and Google Chrome, where I’m now blogging, does not have that problem. I’m on AT&T U-verse. Are they starting to do the “fast lane/slow lane” thing? And Firefox is definitely sloweMaybe it’s Firefox, but the footer message on the screen pops up little messsages like “waiting on www.,” “waiting on,” etc. Lots of waiting.

Somehow this reminded me of a piece of IBM folklore, which may well be true. One high-placed marketing guy (and Marketing ran IBM) was looking around the computer room and noticed that most of the (very expensive in monthly lease—IBM didn’t sell computers in those days) tape drives were red lighted (inactive), very few being green-lighted (in use).

The green light read “In Use,” and the red light, naturally enough to the engineering mind, read “Idle.”

The wording on the red lights was quickly changed to “Ready.”

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2014 at 2:55 pm

Posted in Business, Technology

We Need to Normalize Drug Use in Our Society

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Stanton Peele has an interesting article in Pacific Standard:

Drug use was never considered to be in a special category of human experience until we medicalized addiction—and that idea has been disastrous. Drugs are now returning to their life-sized status as part of the range of normal human behaviors. And they are ubiquitous. Realism about drugs and addiction must dictate drug policy.


There is a myth that narcotics cause addiction, a myth created early in the 20th century. Yet both Americans and Brits used copious amounts of opiates in the 19th century—think laudanum, a tinctured opiate, given lavishly to infants and children—without any thought that they caused addiction.

How was it that people so familiar with the use of opiates were so unfamiliar with addiction to them? According to social historian Virginia Berridge, in Opium and the People, despite the liberal dosing of much of the British population with opium and then morphine, “There is little evidence that there were large numbers of morphine addicts in the late nineteenth century.”

But then, at the turn of the century, we made the brilliant discovery that narcotics caused a unique, irresistible, pathologic medical syndrome. As Berridge says: “Morphine use and the problem, as medically defined, of hypodermic self-administration were closely connected with the medical elaboration of a disease view of addiction.”

And so, by the 1960s, when many drugs burst on to the American scene, pharmacologists constructed lists of drugs and their dangers. These lists had two columns—drugs that cause addiction (or physical dependence), and those that merely cause psychological (“psychic”) dependence: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2014 at 2:11 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Medical, Science

US response to the killing of American children depends on the identity of the killers

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Glenn Greenwald writes at The Intercept:

Last Wednesday in Jerusalem, a three-month-old American baby was killed, and eight other people injured, when a car plowed into a crowded sidewalk; the driver, a 20-year-old Palestinian named Abed a-Rahman a-Shaludi, was killed by police when he tried to flee the scene. The family of the driver insisted it was an accident, but Israeli officials immediately called it a “terrorist act.” Some Israelis speculated that it was in retaliation for the killing in the West Bank of a 5-year-old Palestinian girl days earlier by an Israeli settler who ran his car into her (and another Palestinian girl, seriously injured) and then fled the scene (Palestinian officials denounced that incident as “terrorism”).

Yesterday, a soldier in the Israeli military shot and killed a 14-year-old boy in the West Bank who was participating in a protest against the 5-decade Israeli occupation. The boy, Orwah Hammad . . ., was a U.S. citizen as well as a Palestinian; he was born in New Orleans and moved with his family to the West Bank when he was 6. The IDF claimed he was throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers and that another man was preparing to throw a Molotov cocktail, and that this justified the live ammunition they fired.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement about the two incidents.Here’s the one it issued about last week’s Jerusalem incident where the Palestinian driver killed the American baby, issued on the very day the incident took place (i.e., prior to any investigation):

Terrorist Attack in Jerusalem

The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s terrorist attack in Jerusalem. We express our deepest condolences to the family of the baby, reportedly an American citizen, who was killed in this despicable attack, and extend our prayers for a full recovery to those injured. We urge all sides to maintain calm and avoid escalating tensions in the wake of this incident.

Here’s the markedly different statement the State Department issued last night about the fatal shooting by an Israeli soldier of the 14-year-old American boy:

Death of a U.S. Minor in Silwad

The United States expresses its deepest condolences to the family of a U.S. citizen minor who was killed by the Israeli Defense Forces during clashes in Silwad on October 24. Officials from the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem are in contact with the family and are providing all appropriate consular assistance. We call for a speedy and transparent investigation, and will remain closely engaged with the local authorities, who have the lead on this investigation. We continue to urge all parties to help restore calm and avoid escalating tensions in the wake of the tragic recent incidents in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

There is certainly nothing wrong with waiting for the results of an investigation before making definite statements, but that’s not what the State Department did in the Jerusalem incident, which was instantly labelled a “despicable” act of “terror.” Moreover, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2014 at 2:08 pm

How conservatives justify poll taxes

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Jonathan Chait has an interesting article:

During the Obama era, the Republican Party has made the modern revival of the poll tax a point of party dogma. Direct poll taxes have been illegal for 50 years, but the GOP has discovered a workaround. They have passed laws requiring photo identification, forcing prospective voters who lack them, who are disproportionately Democratic and nonwhite, to undergo the extra time and inconvenience of acquiring them. They have likewise fought to reduce early voting hours on nights and weekends, thereby making it harder for wage workers and single parents, who have less flexibility at work and in their child care, to cast a ballot.

The effect of all these policies is identical to a poll tax. (Indeed, a study found that the cost they impose is considerably greater than existing poll taxes at the time they were banned.) It imposes burdens of money and time upon prospective voters, which are more easily borne by the rich and middle-class, thereby weeding out less motivated voters. Voting restrictions are usually enacted by Republican-controlled states with close political balances, where the small reduction in turnout it produces among Democratic-leaning constituencies is potentially decisive in a close race.

The simple logic of supply and demand suggests that if you raise the cost of a good, the demand for it will fall. Requiring voters to spend time and money obtaining new papers and cards as a condition of voting will axiomatically lead to fewer of them voting.

It is precisely because the effect is so obvious that conservatives must labor so strenuously to deny it. National Revieweditor Rich Lowry, writing in Politico, scoffs at arguments against the Republican poll tax agenda. Lowry offers three arguments for voter identification laws. The first is that we can’t prove that they reduce voting (“its effect can’t reliably be detected by the tools of social science”). . .

Continue reading.

Interesting point raised by Lowry: if you cannot measure it, it does not exist (and, I suppose, the more precise the measurement, the more surely it exists?).

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2014 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Government

For drone strikes, what is optimal ratio of civilian to miltant deaths?

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Apparently, the US drone strikes kill about 7 innocent civilians for every 1 militant: 12% of those killed are militants. That ratio is obviously acceptable to the US, but I wonder how Pakistanis feel about it.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2014 at 1:31 pm

Elon Musk: ‘With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon.’

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The problem is that the priorities and goals of an artificial inelligence are likely to differ—perhaps significantly—from our own. Evidence: our own priorities and goals differ among ourselves (cf. wars, for a prime example). An AI allied with one nation might well be the implacable (and highly intelligent) enemy of another, but even worse might consider human goals and priorities irrelevant to its own.

Matt McFarland has a story in the Washington Post on Musk’s comments in a talk (video at the link). It begins:

Tesla chief executive Elon Musk has warned about artificial intelligence before, tweeting that it could be more dangerous than nuclear weapons. Speaking Friday at the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics department’s Centennial Symposium, Musk called it our biggest existential threat:

I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I were to guess like what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful with the artificial intelligence. Increasingly scientists think there should be some regulatory oversight maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out. . .

Continue reading.You can watch the entire interview here.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2014 at 12:32 pm

Posted in Technology

Extremely ingenious multi-tablet animation

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Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2014 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Music, Video

When the Invisible Hand of the Market picks up a shaving brush…

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SOTD 25 Oct 2014

Sometimes I have a full-on “duh” moment. Today was one.

I’ve been working through a batch of samples of Honeybee Soaps shaving soaps, following this negative review by almightywhacko posted on Reddit’s Wet_Shavers subreddit . I was struck how much that review differs from my own experience with Honeybee Soaps shaving soap.

I was curious to see whether my own experience was indeed an outlier, so I tried collecting the experience of other HBS customers. I also ordered the set of samples I’ve been using this week. While in general I’ve had quite good lathers, but Tuesday’s shave produced a substandard lather: quite sparse by the third pass. In the comments to the post, Ron notes that he himself had had some bad results using the same model of Omega boar brush (the 11575) as I had used in that shave. That observation requires at least three more shaves:

  1. A shave with the same soap and a different kind of brush; and
  2. A shave with the same soap and a different brush of the same kind (boar, probably the 20102); and
  3. A shave with that Omega boar brush and a different soap.

Today I tackled the first of those: using the same lilac soap but with a badger brush—in this case my Rooney Style 2 Finest, a very nice brush indeed. The Rooney Style 2 Super Silvertip ($70 a few years back, $90 now) is an excellent brush, and I had one and loved it. The Finest is indeed somewhat better, but the incremental improvement resulted in a substantial increase in price. However, that’s a common pattern: it costs a certain amount to reach a reasonable level of quality, and incremental improvements beyond that are progressively more expensive. (Check out the price of Purdy shotguns to see how much incremental improvements can cost.)

So today I picked my Rooney Finest silvertip brush and worked up a lather—and wow! what a good lather! Day and night as compared to the lather from the same soap using that Omega boar brush (the Rooney’s lather being the “day” lather, just to be clear). Indeed, after I finished the (three-pass) shave, the brush was still puffy with stored lather (which this brush releases easily):

Full brush

Not only was the lather better, the fragrance was much more noticeable and (to my nose, at least) very nice indeed. Fragrances, however, are like everything else in shaving, a matter of YMMV.

UPDATE: I’ve had a pleasant exchange with almightywhacko and wanted to clarify some things. First, I have indeed used better soaps than HBS soaps, but these are (for me) quite good given their price (under $5/puck). My thought is that HBS soaps work well for their price, but indeed there are soaps that work better—the Synergy soaps from and Strop Shoppe’s Special Edition soaps are two examples that spring to mind, but Arko ($2/stick) and various other artisanal soaps are also good at not much more. Still, I have no trouble getting a good shave with HBS soaps, and for those who want to minimize expense, it seems to me that trying a few samples would answer the question of whether it will work for them. /update

When I saw today how very much better the silvertip badger brush worked than the boar brush on the same soap, I had my “duh” moment. Silvertip badger brushes are much more expensive than boar brushes. That means that the invisible hand of the market is willing to pay (substantially) more for silvertip badger. The invisible hand of the market is considered by some to be pretty much an infallible guide: if prices that are artificially high (i.e., in excess of the benefits gained), then those prices must fall as “the market” turns to lower-priced alternatives to keep the cost/benefit ratio acceptable. So of course silvertip badger would perform better than boar—otherwise, everyone would buy boar, since the higher cost of silvertip would produce no benefit.

I personally am not that enamored of “the invisible hand of the free market,” particularly when Libertarians present it as a universal panacea. We see manifold failures of the free market: environmental degradation, refusal to develop medicines for which the market is small or poor (I’m looking at you, ebola vaccine, but many other examples exist), and in general all the government services undertaken for the general welfare that the invisible hand will either not address or screws up abominably (e.g., for-profit hospitals, for-profit schools, for-profit military units like Blackwater).

Still, given the undeniable major difference in lather quality from the silvertip badger brush and the Omega boar, one can certainly see how the invisible hand will pay more for silvertip badger than for boar. I do understand that boar is more readily available (more supply) and thus less costly to obtain, but the fact that the market is willing to value silvertip badger so much more highly means that (overall) the market recognizes the superiority of the brush in terms of its function: making lather.

The next shave will be that same Omega boar brush with a different soap—D.R. Harris, probably—and then a shave using a different boar brush and the Lilac soap. Step by step.

Three passes with the Standard razor holding an Astra Superior Platinum blade, resulting in a BBS result (no nicks), to which I applied a good splash of Pinaud Lilac Vegetal, now well on its way to a pleasant hint of fragrance.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2014 at 12:09 pm

Posted in Shaving

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