Later On

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

Archive for September 22nd, 2016

Kevin Drum and I totally agree—and also Facebook totally misled its advertisers for two years

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Video ads are not so popular as Facebook presented. Kevin Drum comments here, but I want to poiont out particularly this comment he made:

I should disclose that I’m a sworn enemy of video. It’s handy sometimes, but the information-to-time-spent ratio is usually so abysmal I can’t stand watching it. A few seconds for a cute animal video is one thing. Ten or fifteen minutes for an interview or a podcast or an explainer with maybe one or two small snippets of useful information is unbearable.

I agree 100%.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2016 at 8:39 pm

Posted in Business, Technology

Update on my using Paprika Recipe Manager

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Paprika Recipe Manager is offered on a variety of platforms, including smartphones, and can use the cloud to keep the database in synch across your devices. But I’m an old fuddy-duddy and just use a Macbook, so I paid $20 to get it.

The problem, as TYD pointed out, is that I have scores if not hundreds of Recipes in Word documents, including a couple of documents that are recipe collections, though many of them are single-recipe documents: a page that I print when I want to make it.

So how to do the conversion? Paprika does have an import capability, but I didn’t even look at that. I’m sure it has specific format requirements, etc. So here’s how I’m doing it: When I discover a new recipe, I capture it into Paprika Recipe Manager. I no longer keep a Word document (though I still have those old ones), so the Paprika recipe is it. I immediately edit it to assign a category and make any changes I want. Then, when I want to cook it, I use the very nice print function on Paprika to print it.

So all new recipes go into Paprika directly. And then each time I make an old recipe, I first enter it into Paprika (and with copy-paste it’s a cinch) and then print it from there. So old recipes are gradually brought over, and in a logical order: popularity.

Sometimes I take a food photo, since Paprika can show a photo with recipe title. I did that when I brought over Shari’s Chicken Marinade (which I’ve blogged).

I’m very happy with the program. It’s by far the best recipe database I’ve used. They finally got it right: memetic evolution in action.

UPDATE: You create the categories to which a recipe can be assigned, and the categories are check boxes, not radio buttons, so you check all the categories to which a recipe might belong. A single recipe thus might be in the categories “Snack,” “Lunch,” “Halloween,” “Uncle Ted,” and “Low-carb.” When you click “All recipes” you see it once; if you click any  category, you see all recipes in that category.

Here’s my current main page in Paprika. You’ll note the recipes are in alphabetic order. BTW, when the menu mentions a time (“simmer 10 minutes,” for example), Paprika highlights the time (“10 minutes”) and if you click it, a countdown timer (set at 10 minutes in this example) pops up. Not so useful on my computer, but nice if you’re using an iPad or smartphone.

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Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2016 at 7:52 pm

Observing evolution as it happens

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Emily Singer writes in Quanta:

When Rosemary and Peter Grant first set foot on Daphne Major, a tiny island in the Galápagos archipelago, in 1973, they had no idea it would become a second home. The husband and wife team, now emeritus biology professors at Princeton University, were looking for a pristine environment in which to study evolution. They hoped that the various species of finches on the island would provide the perfect means for uncovering the factors that drive the formation of new species.

The diminutive island wasn’t a particularly hospitable place for the Grants daphneisland-615x399to spend their winters. At less than one-hundredth the size of Manhattan, Daphne resembles the tip of a volcano rising from the sea. Visitors must leap off the boat onto the edge of a steep ring of land that surrounds a central crater. The island’s vegetation is sparse. Herbs, cactus bushes and low trees provide food for finches — small, medium and large ground finches, as well as cactus finches — and other birds. The Grants brought with them all the food and water they would need and cooked meals in a shallow cave sheltered by a tarp from the baking sun. They camped on Daphne’s one tiny flat spot, barely larger than a picnic table.

Though lacking in creature comforts, Daphne proved to be a fruitful choice. The Galápagos’ extreme climate — swinging between periods of severe drought and bountiful rain — furnished ample natural selection. Rainfall varied from a meter of rain in 1983 to none in 1985. A severe drought in 1977 killed off many of Daphne’s finches, setting the stage for the Grants’ first major discovery. During the dry spell, large seeds became more plentiful than small ones. Birds with bigger beaks were more successful at cracking the large seeds. As a result, large finches and their offspring triumphed during the drought, triggering a lasting increase in the birds’ average size. The Grants had observed evolution in action.

That striking finding launched a prolific career for the pair. They visited Daphne for several months each year from 1973 to 2012, sometimes bringing their daughters. Over the course of their four-decade tenure, the couple tagged roughly 20,000 birds spanning at least eight generations. (The longest-lived bird on the Grants’ watch survived a whopping 17 years.) They tracked almost every mating and its offspring, creating large, multigenerational pedigrees for different finch species. They took blood samples and recorded the finches’ songs, which allowed them to track genetics and other factors long after the birds themselves died. They have confirmed some of Darwin’s most basic predictions and have earned a variety of prestigious science awards, including the Kyoto Prize in 2009.

Now nearly 80, the couple have slowed their visits to the Galápagos. These days, they are most excited about applying genomic tools to the data they collected. They are collaborating with other scientists to find the genetic variants that drove the changes in beak size and shape that they tracked over the past 40 years.Quanta Magazine spoke with the Grants about their time on Daphne; an edited and condensed version of the conversation follows.

QUANTA MAGAZINE: Why did you decide to go to the Galápagos? What drew you to study finches specifically?

ROSEMARY GRANT: I had more of a genetics background and Peter more of an ecological background. But we were both interested in the same process — how and why species form. We both wanted to choose a population that was variable in a natural environment.

The Galápagos had several things that were very important. The islands are young, and there are lots of populations of finches that occur together and separately on the different islands. The islands were in close to pristine condition, having never been inhabited by humans. We knew that any changes would be natural changes and not the result of human interference.

The climate is extremely dynamic. The archipelago lies astride the equator and is subject to the El Niño–Southern Oscillation phenomenon. There are years with a terrific amount of rainfall, which is very good for finches. But it can also get years of drought, when many birds die. We now know that up to 80 to 90 percent of birds on the small islands die in times of drought. Those extremes would give us the opportunity to measure the climate variations that occurred and the evolutionary responses to those changes.

PETER GRANT: We had three main questions in mind. First, how are new species formed? That’s the Darwinian question of the origin of species. Second, do species compete for food? If they do, what effect does that have on the structure of animal communities? That was a hot topic in the early 1980s. There was very little experimental evidence at the time, so there was plenty of scope for taking a position one way or another. Third, why do some populations exhibit large variation in morphological traits like body size and beak size?

What was it like stepping on the island for the first time? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2016 at 6:22 pm

Posted in Evolution, Science

Police believe public has no right to see videos that might reveal police misconduct

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I can understand why the police would not want the public to view videos that reveal misconduct and fight to keep such evidence secret, I don’t see why the police should be allowed to get away with that.

German Lopez has an interesting article at Vox.com:

There were two high-profile police shootings in the past week — and police’s responses to them could not have been more different.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a police officer shot and killed Terence Crutcher, an unarmed 40-year-old black man. Shortly after the shooting, police released all available video that they had — promising to get to the bottom of what happened in an investigation.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, a police officer shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year-old black man police claim was armed and brandishing a gun. There is video — police have said that the officer who fired the fatal shot didn’t have a body camera, but other officers on the scene did, and there may be dashboard camera footage. But police said they won’t release the video, as it’s currently under review and part of an ongoing investigation.

It’s a startling difference in transparency and accountability: Police in Tulsa quickly released all the video they had, while police in Charlotte may not ever (willingly) put out video.

One reason for the difference: North Carolina law. Earlier in July, Republican Gov. Pat McCrorysigned a controversial measure that prevents law enforcement agencies from releasing video footage without a court order. The law doesn’t take effect until October, but Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney cited the law in his defense for not releasing the video.

The law, McCrory previously argued, is needed to preserve public safety and the integrity of investigations. One major concern for law enforcement is that released video footage could let witnesses verify and change their testimonies to match what’s on video, making it more difficult to discern who’s a trustworthy eyewitness and who isn’t.

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel put this argument best after the police shooting of Sylville Smith in Milwaukee: Releasing video prior to an investigation’s completion “would compromise the integrity of the investigation,” he said. “It is sometimes necessary to confront witnesses with information they didn’t know or they didn’t know we know. I cannot have witness statements colored or tainted by what they are seeing from other sources.”

But the North Carolina law also shows the limits of body cameras for holding police accountable: As promising as the devices may seem, how much of an impact they have largely depends on who controls the footage. . .

Continue reading. Video at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2016 at 6:12 pm

Cuban inventos: Hacks and ingenuity to keep things working.

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Very interesting article in Craftsmanship magazine by Rob Waters. Worth the click.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2016 at 4:30 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

DEA Is Banning a Little Known Medicinal Plant Called Kratom. Why? Because they can.

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They don’t have to provide a reason, which is handy when you don’t have a reason. The reason is probably the same reason the DEA keeps marijuana as a Schedule I drug: they can, so they do. Let’s face it: the more things the DEA makes illegal, the more work there is for them to do. Having the DEA in charge of deciding whether medical plants should be made illegal is like having a paving contractor deciding whether or not citizens should replace their driveway.

Madison Margolin reports in MOtherboard:

The US government is set to ban kratom, a medicinal plant and painkiller, even though researchers say it might not be dangerous.

Native to Southeast Asia, kratom has traditionally been brewed in tea, or ground up and encapsulated as powder. Historically, Thai laborers would use it to help them work longer hours without pain. But the drug has gone from subtle roots to becoming a Schedule I drug, akin to heroin in the eyes of the Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA’s temporary ban will go into effect on September 30.

Kratom is most commonly used to treat chronic pain. The chemicals in kratom bond to the brain’s opiate receptors, making it the drug of choice for some patients with conditions like fibromyalgia or multiple sclerosis. Sometimes, it’s also a treatment for opiate addicts undergoing withdrawal—the medical journal Addiction featured one such pain patient who switched from Dilaudid pills to kratom tea.

In low doses, it acts as a slight stimulant, and in higher doses it acts like more of a sedative, one reason kratom has also been hailed as an anti-anxiety drug. But lately, as Motherboard reported earlier, kratom pills sold online have become a sort oflovechild between adderall and oxycontin.

The relatively unknown drug has received some sporadic media attention the past few years, as it eventually made its way into the awareness of the Drug Enforcement Administration. In an emergency action this past August, the DEA placed kratom temporarily into the Schedule I category, which states it has “no accepted medical use.” The move was reminiscent of our marijuana legislation.

As kratom has no history of being particularly popular, or problematic, surprised vendors have rushed to remove it from their shelves before the DEA moves toward a permanent ban. And they aren’t happy about it.

“If kratom becomes a Schedule I drug, America will see what a true epidemic looks like, all the while denying American citizens of the only substance that eases their pain, depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc.,” said Robert McMahan, head of the online kratom vendor Blue River Wellness, in an email. He said kratom has been a much safer alternative to other opiates and drugs like meth and heroin. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2016 at 4:27 pm

How the Financing of Colleges May Lead to Disaster

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Rana Foroohar has an interesting review in the NY Review of Books:

Game of Loans: The Rhetoric and Reality of Student Debt
by Beth Akers and Matthew M. Chingos
Princeton University Press, 181 pp., $26.95

Diploma Mills: How For-Profit Colleges Stiffed Students, Taxpayers, and the American Dream
by A.J. Angulo
Johns Hopkins University Press, 203 pp., $29.95

Lesson Plan: An Agenda for Change in American Higher Education
by William G. Bowen and Michael S. McPherson
Princeton University Press, 163 pp., $24.95<

Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid
University of Chicago Press, 373 pp., $27.50

Solving the Student Loan Crisis: Dreams, Diplomas and a Lifetime of Debt
by Cryn Johannsen
New Insights, 132 pp., $11.95 (paper)

Capitalizing on Crisis: The Political Origins of the Rise of Finance
by Greta R. Krippner
Harvard University Press, 222 pp., $45.50; $22.50 (paper)

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy
by Cathy O’Neil
Crown, 259 pp., $26.00

When the financial industry—banks, hedge funds, loan companies, private equity—gets too involved in any particular activity of the economy or society, it’s usually time to worry. The financial sector, which represents a mere 4 percent of jobs in this country but takes a quarter of all private sector profits, is like the proverbial Las Vegas casino—it always wins, and usually leaves a trail of losers behind. So perhaps alarms should have been raised among both financial regulators and educational leaders when, two decades ago, for-profit colleges began going public on the NASDAQand cutting deals by which private equity firms would buy them out. Apollo Group, the parent company of the University of Phoenix, was one of the first, becoming a publicly traded corporation in 1994, at a time when the university had a mere 25,000 students. By 2007 the university had expanded to 125,000 students at 116 locations. This was growth pushed by investors who viewed students as federally subsidized “annuities” that, via their Pell Grants and student loans, would produce a fat and stable return in the form of tuition fees.

It’s an issue that’s been front and center in recent months, not only with the scandal surrounding Trump University and the recent closure of the ITT chain of for-profit colleges, but also the news that Bill Clinton was, during five years, paid a total of $17.6 million to serve as an “honorary chancellor” of the for-profit college company Laureate International Universities. The sector has been raking in money for some time now. Throughout the roaring 1990s, for-profit college and university enrollment grew by nearly 60 percent, compared to a mere 7 percent rise in the traditional nonprofit sector.

As one Credit Suisse analyst looking at the $35 billion industry put it, “it’s hard not to make a profit” in the for-profit education sector. The stock prices of for-profit colleges and universities (FPCUs) reflected that; they rose more than 460 percent between 2000 and 2003 with much support from public subsidies. Their promotional budgets rose, too—Apollo recently spent more on marketing than Apple, the world’s richest company.

But education, sadly, did not benefit. As A.J. Angulo outlines in his detailed history of the for-profit sector, Diploma Mills, that’s because such schools spend a large majority of their budgets not on teaching but on raising money and distributing it to investors. In 2009, for example, thirty leading FPCUs spent 17 percent of their budget on instruction and 42 percent on marketing to new students and paying out existing investors. Is it any wonder, then, that investigations into the industry from 2010 to 2012 found that while it represented only 12 percent of the post-secondary student population, it received a quarter of all federal aid disbursements and was responsible for 44 percent of all loan defaults, many of them by working-class students who either couldn’t afford to graduate or, once they did, found their degrees were largely useless in the marketplace? As one critic of the system puts it in the book, “There is no way to escape being a slave to the quarterly report. Quality education and higher earnings are two masters. You can’t serve both.”

All this has huge ramifications not just for the victims of the for-profit sector (many are now waging successful lawsuits for debt relief) but for higher education as a whole. For-profit colleges and universities don’t exist in a vacuum. Their rise has happened in tandem with a fall in state funding for public education, budget squeezes at nonprofit state colleges, rising college fees (according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data the price of college and textbooks has tripled since 1996), a growth in student credit availability and debt, stagnant wages, and a rising sense of hysteria—sometimes justified, other times not—that the system of higher education in America is broken and must be fixed.

Certainly all these factors have been huge issues in the 2016 presidential campaign, propelling the unlikely success of Bernie Sanders during the primaries. One of the most memorable moments of the Democratic National Convention came during Sanders’s speech, when young delegates wept as he endorsed Hillary Clinton. She has, in turn, been under political pressure to take up his banner; her platform now includes a mandate to make in-state tuition free at public colleges and universities for all Americans whose families make up to $125,000 a year.

Thoughtful people can disagree on whether college should be free, and if so for whom, but it’s a timely and important question. As Harvard academics Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz made so clear in their 2008 book, The Race Between Education and Technology, economic growth and national competitiveness are predicated on education staying ahead of technology, thereby enabling workers with higher and higher skill levels to be more productive. Economic growth basically depends on productivity plus demographics. Since the 1980s this link has been broken, as educational attainment in the US has faltered—over the last thirteen years, the US has ranked third from the bottom among OECD nations in gains in education attainment beyond high school.

One result, according to Goldin and Katz, as well as any number of other experts who study the topic (see William G. Bowen and Michael S. McPherson’s Lesson Plan, for instance), is slower economic growth. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2016 at 4:13 pm

Perverse assignment strategy for cops: The Most Dangerous Neighborhood, the Most Inexperienced Cops

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Andrew Fan writes for The Marshall Project:

The officers who patrol the Chicago’s 11th Police District face a daunting challenge. The district, which is centered around Garfield Park on the city’s West Side, has the highest murder rate in the city, and it’s rising fast. By late August the district already had more murders than in all of 2015, when it led the city with 48 homicides.

The officers of the 11th District stand out in another way. They are the youngest and least experienced police officers of any district in Chicago.

The average officer in the 11th joined the force 10 years ago; over a third of the district’s officers have less than five years on the force. Meanwhile, most veteran officers with patrol experience in the late 1990s — the last time Chicago’s murder rate was as high as today — work far from Garfield Park. Half a dozen miles to the north one of the city’s safest districts, Jefferson Park, has only three officers with under 10 years of experience. Over half the patrol officers are 20-year veterans.

The divide between the police officers who patrol Garfield Park and Jefferson Park reflect divisions that hold true across Chicago and in police departments across the country, where high-crime areas are frequently staffed with rookies while the veterans flock to safer districts. Policing experts say that the practice is commonplace, since senior officers usually get priority when they ask to transfer, though Chicago’s union-mandated transfer process exacerbates the situation, tying the hands of commanders in deciding how to staff their districts. And while some say that the divide has its benefits, citing younger officers’ energy and ability to connect with at-risk youth, there are also significant risks—to the safety of citizens and officers, and to police departments that already struggle to forge lasting connections in many communities.

“You’re putting your least experienced officers in the situations that really call for the most experience and best judgement,” says Sam Walker, a professor and policing expert at the University of Nebraska. According to Walker, younger officers are more likely to engage in overly aggressive policing, particularly if not given proper training.

A lack of experience can also have deadly consequences. Last year, aBuzzfeed News analysis found that younger officers are more likely to use force — a finding also backed by a 2008 study of 186 officer-involved shootings. In Chicago, a database of police shootings compiled by theChicago Tribune showed that the average officer who opened fire had about nine years of experience, compared to 15 for the department as a whole.

Three young Chicago officers recently came under scrutiny for their use of force in the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Paul O’Neal. Body camera and patrol car footage released by the city showed two officers firing at O’Neal as he plowed past the officers while driving a stolen car. Moments later, after a short foot chase, a third officer fatally shot O’Neal – who was unarmed – in the back. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2016 at 3:34 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

Inside NFL’s Backwards Marijuana Policy

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Ross Benes reports in Rolling Stone:

At the conclusion of North Dallas Forty wide receiver Phil Elliott, played by Nick Nolte, gets blackballed by his team owner for “smoking a marijuana cigarette.” After being presented with a photo that shows Elliott toking up, the team owner patronizes Elliott and says, “Illegal drugs are forbidden by the league rules Phil, you know that.” To which Elliott replies: “Jesus, smoking grass, what are you kidding me? If you nailed all the ballplayers who smoked grass, you wouldn’t even be able to field a punt return team. Besides that, you give me the hardest stuff in Chicago just to get out of the goddamn locker room. Hard drugs!”

Though North Dallas Forty is technically fictional and came out nearly 40 years ago, its story is a classic example of the same-shit-different-day phenomenon. In recent weeks, Bills linemen Marcell Dareus andSeantrel Henderson were each suspended four games for using marijuana. And Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott caused a scandalby simply walking into a legal weed-friendly establishment. Meanwhile, the NFL was busy knuckling players into “cooperating” with a doping investigation based on scant and recanted evidence.

Given America’s growing acceptance of cannabis, the bad press the NFL gets when it punishes marijuana use more harshly than domestic abuse, and the personal tragedies and lawsuits that have stemmed from team doctors overprescribing opioids, it seems a little peculiar that the NFL continues to retain an authoritarian stance on marijuana use while team doctors simultaneously dole out powerful and addictive painkillers. Especially considering that the league is mired in concussion suits and there’s a possibility that cannabis could reduce the impact of head trauma.

To get a better grasp of this dissonance, let’s take a look at the changing national perception of marijuana, possible incentives the NFL has for maintaining its marijuana policies, upcoming football-related cannabis research initiatives, and what it might take to get the NFL to stop punishing players for using marijuana.

Changing Context
As Kevin Seifert of ESPN pointed out, during the hysteria of the War on Drugs in the 1980s it was “politically and socially necessary” for the NFL to discipline marijuana users. But after the war on drugs proved to be a massive failure, people began viewing certain drugs more tolerantly, and now polls show that a majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana. As public support increased so did legalization, and today more than 60 percent (20 of the 32 teams) of NFL teams play in states that allow medical marijuana. Come November that percentage could grow as there are a plethora of state ballot initiativespushing for medical and recreational marijuana legalization.

There are also bills in the Senate and House aimed specifically at cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD), which is a compound found in cannabis that doesn’t get people high. CBD is typically taken orally and it includes only trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis. A group of vocal ex-players are pushing the league to allow players to use CBD as a pain reliever. Because as the league’s policy currently stands, a player taking CBD could potentially surpass the league’s testing threshold and test positive.

“The risk [of testing positive for using CBD] is very low compared to the people using high-THC cannabis,” said Joel Stanley, CEO of hemp extracts producer CW Hemp. “But there certainly is a risk. But when you have something that you know is non-toxic, non-psychoactive, and non-addictive, and if you are in those high-impact situations, why not [allow players to] take that product?”

The NFL declined interview requests for this story. But a league spokesperson sent over the following statement:

Independent medical advisors to the league and the National Football League Players Association are constantly reviewing and relying on the most current research and scientific data. The league will continue to follow the advice of leading experts on treatment, pain management and other symptoms associated with concussions and other injuries.

It went on to say: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2016 at 3:28 pm

Quitting social media make you happier, at least among the young

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Sarah Marsh reports in The Guardian:

r love of social media seems to have grown and grown in the past decade, but recent studies show the tide may be turning for some platforms, with young people in particular ditching Facebook. One study claims that more than 11 million teenagers left Facebook between 2011 and 2014. It’s been argued that they are swapping public platforms such as Twitter and Instagram for more private messaging apps like WhatsApp and Snapchat.

We asked the Guardian’s younger readers whether they have quit social media and why, as well as what apps they are ditching. Almost all reported a greater sense of happiness after going offline. Here, we share some of their experiences.

Daisy, 23, Manchester: ‘I feel less anxious and less like a failure’

After a romance ended with a guy I really liked, I kept trying to avoid Facebook so I wouldn’t have to see him. It was after this that I gradually switched off from it, but before that I’d been wanting to quit for a while.

Facebook made me feel anxious, depressed and like a failure. When I went online it seemed like everyone was in Australia or Thailand, and if they weren’t travelling they were getting engaged or landing great jobs. I felt like everyone was living the dream and I was still at home with my parents, with debt from my student loan hanging over me.

I also felt that if I wasn’t tagging myself at restaurants or uploading photos from nights out, people would assume I wasn’t living. I remember a friend from uni said to me once, “Yeah, but you’re still going out having fun, I’ve seen on Facebook.” I tried to present myself as always having a great time. If my status didn’t get more than five likes, I’d delete it.

My life has changed for the better since deleting social media. I now enjoy catching up with my friends, and when they tell me new plans my response isn’t just, “Yeah, I saw on Facebook.” It makes you realise who your real friends are and how social media takes the joy out of sharing news with people. I also feel less anxious and less of a failure.

I’m planning to visit a friend in Australia next month, and she and my mum and a couple of other friends want me to go back on Facebook to share my pictures. I’d really prefer not to, though. I’m on Instagram, but I mostly follow sarcastic quote pages. I’ve never had a Twitter account.

George Lincoln, 17, Hampshire: ‘A lot of young people aren’t interested in Facebook any more’ . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2016 at 3:08 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

The money is gone. Find where it went.

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This is just part 1, but it’s got me hooked. David Dayen in The Intercept, and well worth reading. I can’t wait for Part 2. UPDATE: Here is part 2.

The blurb:

Part 1 – After a stock analyst lost $1 million on one penny stock, he set off to find out how — and soon discovered signs of a far bigger scheme than he had ever imagined.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2016 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Business

Prosecutors defend junk science since it makes convictions easier

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Prosecutors in general don’t really care all that much about justice. Their mission, as they seem to see it, is to secure as many convictions as possible for as lengthy a sentence as possible, and whether the facts support that is irrelevant. The idea given is that if the two advocates, one for prosecution and one for defense, do everything they can, then whatever happens is “justice.” Thus we have prosecutors burying or destroying exculpatory evidence, using testimoney from jailhouse snitches that is purchased with reduced charges, and of course the generous use of bogus science.

And “prosecutors” very much includes Federal attorneys: the Department of Justice has come out strongly in favor of bogus science—as they would: the FBI forensics labs were the epitome of bogus science. (Remember when the FBI fingerprint analysis proved that the man in Portland Oregon had been in Madrid at the time of the bombing there? Only the man was in Portland and had absolutely no connection with the bombing. Still, the FBI insisted that their (bogus) science proved that he was there, until the police in Madrid let the FBI know that their “assistance” was no longer needed (or desired).

Bert at ProsecutorAccountability.com notes:

This week, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (“PCAST”) released a system-shaking report that explains how several fields of forensic analysis—including bite-mark analysis, hair comparisons, and shoeprint analysis—lack adequate scientific validation. Although many of these techniques have not been shown to be sufficiently reliable, they have been permitted to produce evidence in criminal cases across the country for many years. It is no wonder that D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Harry Edwards and Jennifer Mnookin, the dean of UCLA’s law school, wrote in the Washington Post that “[t]he report is a much-needed wake-up call to all who care about the integrity of the criminal-justice system.” Rather than waking up, however, the National District Attorneys Association (“NDAA”) is doubling down on the pseudo-science masquerading as forensic evidence. Given that district attorneys themselves widely evade accountability and face inadequate constraints on their power, perhaps it is no surprise that their representative organization is unwilling to stomach expert scrutiny of the evidence prosecutors introduce in criminal trials every day.

PCAST is no group of unqualified slouches, it is a prestigious body comprised of well-respected scientists from around the country. As Judge Edwards and Mnookin (senior advisors to the report) explain, “[w]hat is noteworthy about the new report is that it is written solely by eminent scientists who carefully assess forensic methods according to appropriate scientific standards.”  Yet, in a press release issued shortly after a draft of the report was circulated before its official publication (and likely before most of the NDAA’s members even read it), the NDAA claimed that the report’s authors suffer from a “lack of qualifications” and asserted that the report’s conclusions are “scientifically irresponsible.” The basis for these harsh allegations? The mere fact that PCAST had the gall to call the prevailing system into question without deference to “settled law”. Their press release reads: “Notwithstanding the lack of qualifications, PCAST has taken it upon itself to usurp the Constitutional role of the Courts and decades of legal precedent and insert itself as the final arbiter of the reliability and admissibility of the information generated through these forensic science disciplines.”

Indeed, “settled law” has been responsible for the continued reliance on even the worst of forensic practices, including bite-mark analysis. Some defendants are still facing lifelong sentences—if not execution—today as a result of convictions based on this faulty forensic evidence. The Washington Post’s Radley Balko has been following atrail of these cases from Mississippi for years. These cases suggest that, like the NDAA, some thoroughly discredited forensic “experts” like Michael West are totally unwilling to accept challenges to the scientific validity of the work. Indeed, Balko recently reported that West “gave [] testimony in [] cases that resulted in convictions of people we now know were not guilty. Yet he doesn’t show the slightest bit of regret or reverence for what has happened. Only defiance.” Defiance.

PCAST’s report does not undermine all forensic disciplines; far from it. Instead, it recommends that those disciplines develop standards to validate their methods. In other words, it embraces the basic proposition that the scientific method should be used to evaluate the fitness of “scientific” evidence regularly brought into criminal trials. And, at this juncture, “many forensic techniques do not yet pass scientific muster . . . . impl[ying] [that] these techniques are not ready for use in the courtroom either.”

If prosecutors are meant to seek justice rather than simply push for convictions, why is the leading organization of prosecutors so forcefully battling scientists who want to ensure that courtroom evidence is more reliable? . . .

Continue reading. The intro provides, I think, the answer to the question at the break, but continue reading to see Bert’s answer. And do continue reading. Later in the post:

We have observed that aggressive prosecutors often rely on bogus “science” to paper over weak or even plainly vindictive prosecutions.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2016 at 12:03 pm

Weber polished-head razor goes to auction

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Weber side

This Weber polished-head razor with a Weber Bulldog handle is now up for auction on eBay.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2016 at 11:21 am

Posted in Shaving

Wells Fargo: It wasn’t just bogus accounts, the bank also screwed customers with foreclosures

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Unfortunately, the agencies responsible for regulating the banking industry are, with the cooperation of the President, controlled by the banking industry, so I doubt that anything will be done long term. Still, it’s interesting to see that banks can pretty much do what they want with the sure knowledge that no bank official will be punished in any way. (The person who ran the bogus-accounts scam was given $125 million bonus when she retired: that’s the sort of “accountability” banks practice.

Gretchen Morgenson reports in the NY Times:

John Stumpf, the chairman and chief executive of Wells Fargo, won a dubious achievement award from one of his interrogators during Tuesday’s scorching hearings on Capitol Hill. The bank’s yearslong practice of opening bogus accounts for customers and charging fees to do so, said Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, had united the Senate Banking Committee on a major topic for the first time in a decade. “And not in a good way,” headded.

But this was not the first time problematic and pervasive activities at Wells Fargo succeeded in uniting a disparate group. After observing years of abusive mortgage loan servicing practices at the bank, an increasing number of judges hearing foreclosure cases after the financial crisis grew to understand that banks could not always be trusted in their pleadings.

This was a major shift: For decades, the nation’s courts had been largely pro-bank when hearing foreclosure cases, accepting what big financial institutions produced in documentation and amounts owed by borrowers.

“Wells didn’t intentionally educate judges. They didn’t raise their hand and say, ‘Judge, we’re sorry,’” said O. Max Gardner III, a prominent foreclosure defense lawyer who teaches consumer counsel how to represent troubled borrowers. “It was people really digging in and having the resources and the time to ask the right questions about what they were doing with the money.” Those practices included levying improper fees and incorrectly foreclosing on homes.

Tom Goyda, a Wells Fargo spokesman, said: “The housing downturn was a challenging time for our nation, and Wells Fargo has acknowledged that we made mistakes in the handling of mortgage foreclosures along the way. Lenders, investors, along with policy makers and regulators — all sides — learned foreclosure processes had to be addressed, and Wells Fargo made significant improvements to the way we work with customers when they fall behind in their payments and during the foreclosure process.”

During the financial crisis, Wells Fargo was at a remove from Wall Street and was not a big player in creating toxic and complex mortgage securities that were engineered to fail. But the bank’s ability to emerge from the crisis with a relatively good reputation is something of a mystery to anyone who paid attention to its aggressive foreclosure activities.

The only difference: Mr. Stumpf, who was named Wells’s chief executive in 2007, has apologized to the customers his bank harmed with its account opening charade. Lawyers who represented troubled borrowers say no such apology came from Mr. Stumpf during the foreclosure mess.

“I sure as heck haven’t seen it,” said Linda Tirelli, a longtime foreclosure defense lawyer at Garvey Tirelli & Cushner in White Plains, who has often battled Wells Fargo. “I don’t remember ever hearing him apologize, because that would admit wrongdoing, and that’s not part of Wells Fargo’s corporate culture. Their culture is about not holding anybody at the top accountable.”

Some judges tried to hold Wells Fargo to account for its foreclosure practices. One was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2016 at 10:41 am

Why police offers do not render first aid to shooting victims

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The policy should, I think, be to render first aid to all shooting victims as soon as it is safe to do so: all victims, whether police, by-standers, or perpetrators. Instead, police often simply stand by and watch as gunshot victims bleed out. Richard Pérez-Peña reports in the NY Times that this response is generally not a policy but the default action when there is no policy:

After the police in Tulsa, Okla., released video footage of an officer fatally shooting an unarmed man, and then standing back rather than tending to the man’s wounds, many people had the same reaction as a local activist, Marq Lewis, who voiced outrage that “they let him lay there two-plus minutes, bleeding.”

Anger at the treatment of the man, Terence Crutcher — not only his shooting last Friday, but also how officers behaved afterward — echoed concerns over other recent cases, mostly involving black males who died at the hands of the police. Notably, when Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy with a pellet gun, was shot to death in 2014 in a park in Cleveland, officers stood around for several minutes, waiting for an emergency medical team and offering no first aid.

So what should officers do? Experts in policing agree that the way officers respond, or fail to, is often a problem, but they say that such failures are not necessarily the fault of the officers, and that law enforcement agencies are starting to address them.

“It is reasonable for people to assume that when it is safe for the officers to do so, that they would render first aid to somebody they’ve just shot,” said Jim Bueermann, a former police chief who is president of the Police Foundation, a research group that advises law enforcement agencies. “But a lot of departments do not have policies that clearly articulate the officer’s responsibilities in that situation, and some have no policy at all.”

This year, the Police Executive Research Forum, another research group, issued a list of 30 use-of-force policies that police departments should adopt, including a requirement that officers render first aid when they can. Officials and rank-and-file officers have raised objections to other recommendations on the list, but not to that one, said Chuck Wexler, the group’s executive director.

“Cops have to be able to pivot immediately from using deadly force to trying to save a life,” said Mr. Wexler, a former police officer. “That is tough, we know that, but it’s what’s needed, and it’s not happening.”

Officers get first-aid training at police academies, but experts say it is often rudimentary, and not reinforced through their careers. A New York City officer, Peter Liang, who was convicted of manslaughter for fatally shooting a man in an apartment house stairwell, said he did not give the man CPR because he had not been properly trained in the procedure, a claim the department upheld.

Even when agencies do instruct officers to give first aid, as many police departments in large cities do, officers often lack the training or equipment to handle gunshot wounds.

“It’s typically geared toward, you come across an auto accident, or someone is having a heart attack or choking,” said William Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, a coalition of police officer unions. “If there’s a gunshot wound, the typical training is for the officer to call for medical help.”

Some agencies have increased medical training in recent years, and others, like the police departments in Cleveland and Los Angeles, have equipped officers with trauma kits that contain items such as tourniquets, bandages and sterile gloves. . .

Continue reading. Regarding the last paragraph, it’s unclear why the police officers who shot Tamir Rice, age 12, did not use their trauma kits.

Interest that Alice Speri, in her article in The Intercept that lists eight essential policies on the use of force, does not include any police on aiding victims. The eight policies she names:

  • Require officers to de-escalate situations before resorting to force
  • Limit the kinds of force that can be used to respond to specific forms of resistance
  • Restrict chokeholds
  • Require officers to give verbal warning before using force
  • Prohibit officers from shooting at moving vehicles
  • Require officers to exhaust all alternatives to deadly force
  • Require officers to stop colleagues from exercising excessive force
  • Require comprehensive reporting on use of force

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2016 at 10:27 am

Omega, Phoenix Solstice, the Rockwell R3, and Pinaud

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SOTD 2016-09-22

The Omega 20102 is a fine bruhs, and it produced a great lather with Phoenix Artisan Solstice. I did palm lathering this morning, working a fair amount of water into the lather, so my stubble was well-prepped when the Rockwell R3 with a Rockwell blade mowed it down. A good splash of Pinaud Classic Vanilla finished the ritual.

Later today I’ll be listing the last of my Weber razors, the Polished Head on a Weber Bulldog handle.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2016 at 8:46 am

Posted in Shaving

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