Later On

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

Archive for August 2nd, 2019

I just had a very pleasant snack-supper

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I didn’t feel very hungry—this whole-food plant-based diet is, as I have commented before, very filling—but I did want a little something, plus Cronometer showed I was short of B5 because I didn’t eat my regular breakfast (which includes about 6-7 oz mushrooms, which are high in B5).

So I put 2 teaspoons of oil in my 2-qt sauté pan after heating it and then immediately added one bunch of large scallions, chopped. I let them cook and sprinkled them generously with Savory Spice Blend (having made a new batch today—it’s really good) and after they cooked down a bit added 5 cloves garlic minced quite fine.

I let that cook a minute, the put in two Portobello mushrooms caps, stem removed (and eaten). I covered the pan and cooked over medium heat for 5 minutes, then flipped them and cooked 5 minutes more. You might even cook a little longer, but they seemed mighty good to me. And my B5 is now 108% of the RDA.

I notice I’m running a little low in lysine. This weekend I’ll pick up some dried apricots.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2019 at 6:51 pm

How Trump’s Political Appointees Overruled Tougher Settlements With Big Banks

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Jesse Eisinger, ProPublica, and Kevin Wack, American Banker, write in ProPublica:

Since Donald Trump’s election, federal white-collar enforcement has taken a big hit. Fines and settlements against corporations have plummeted. Prosecutions of individuals are falling to record lows.

But just how these fines and settlements came to be slashed is less well understood. Two settlements with giant banks over financial crisis-era misdeeds provide a window into how the Trump administration has eased up on corporate wrongdoers.

In settlements last year with the two big U.K.-based banks, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland, political appointees at the Trump administration Justice Department took the unusual step of overruling staff prosecutors to reduce the settlements sought, leaving billions of dollars in potential recoveries on the table, according to four people familiar with the settlements.

In the case of RBS, then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided that the charges should not be pursued as a criminal case, as the prosecutorial team advocated, but rather as a less serious civil one.

Both cases were developed by the Obama administration DOJ and involved accusations that the banks misled buyers of residential mortgage-backed securities before the 2008 financial crisis. Prosecutors seemingly found numerous examples of bankers knowingly selling lemons to their customers. The mortgages they were putting into securities were “total fucking garbage,” one RBS executive said in a phone call that was recorded and cited in a DOJ filing. A Barclays banker said a group of loans “scares the shit out of me.” Mortgages that went into the two banks’ securities lost a total of $73 billion, according to calculations used by the government.

In March 2018, the DOJ settled with Barclays for $2 billion, a sum dictated by Trump appointees that was far below what the staff prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn had sought. The settlement with RBS occurred in August 2018, for $4.9 billion. After Rosenstein downgraded the case from criminal to civil, other Trump appointees concluded that the settlement amount should be about half of what staff prosecutors in the District of Massachusetts had sought.

DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Sutton said that the Barclays and RBS settlements held the banks accountable for serious misconduct, and that the penalties recovered from the banks were fair and proportionate compared with those previously obtained from other banks. She did not respond to detailed questions about how the two settlements were reached and why key decisions were dictated from Washington. “They were largely negotiated by career attorneys in the Department and U.S. Attorneys’ offices with the support and collaboration of Department leadership,” Sutton wrote in an email. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, but it’s depressing.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2019 at 6:28 pm

Just how big a problem is voter suppression?

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Jennifer Rubin had a good column today:

The progressive Brennan Center for Justice is out with an alarming new report documenting the widespread use of voting roll purges. The center found: “Using data released by the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) in June, a new Brennan Center analysis has found that between 2016 and 2018, counties with a history of voter discrimination have continued purging people from the rolls at much higher rates than other counties.”

The numbers are startling. “At least 17 million voters were purged nationwide between 2016 and 2018, similar to the number we saw between 2014 and 2016, but considerably higher than we saw between 2006 and 2008.” Moreover, the purged voters come disproportionately from jurisdictions that, because of their history of voter discrimination, were previously required to preclear electoral law changes with the Justice Department. That requirement has been on hold since the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. “The median purge rate over the 2016–2018 period in jurisdictions previously subject to preclearance was 40 percent higher than the purge rate in jurisdictions that were not covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.” If the numbers had been proportionate between preclearance and non-preclearance jurisdictions “as many as 1.1 million fewer individuals would have been removed from voter rolls between 2016 and 2018.”

It shouldn’t surprise you that a red state such as Indiana had a much higher purge rate (22 percent) than blue states such as New Mexico (1.4 percent) and California (2.8 percent).

In plain language, since Trump was elected 17 million people have been thrown off the voting rolls. Some may have died or moved away, but some significant portion of those were infrequent voters who are more likely to be poor, nonwhite or otherwise marginalized. As the center explains, “States rely on faulty data that purport to show that a voter has moved to another state. Oftentimes, these data get people mixed up. In big states like California and Texas, multiple individuals can have the same name and date of birth, making it hard to be sure that the right voter is being purged when perfect data are unavailable.” Voters in most instances have no way of knowing if they’ve been thrown off the list “until they try to cast a ballot on Election Day — after it’s already too late. If those voters live in a state without election day registration, they are often prevented from participating in that election.”

The center recommends that before the 2020 election, “election administrators should take steps to ensure that every eligible American can cast a ballot next November.” That means “administrators must be transparent about how they are deciding what names to remove from the rolls. They must be diligent in their efforts to avoid erroneously purging voters. And they should push for reforms like automatic voter registration and election day registration, which keep voters’ registration records up to date.”

However, this assumes a degree of good faith that in the case of many officials is unwarranted. Voter purges are only one means of suppressing nonwhite and poor voters. Insufficient polling places (contributing to long lines and great travel distances to voting places), reduction in early-voting times, voter voter-ID laws and a host of other tactics like those we saw in Georgia’s governor race in 2018 suggest purges are part of a larger, deliberate plan that — oh look! — just happens to adversely affect voters you’d expect to vote for Democrats.

This isn’t merely about partisan advantage. The artificial reduction in the electorate with an eye toward boosting the percentage of white, Republican voters strikes at the heart of our democracy. The Voting Rights Act, before it was hobbled by the court, allowed millions of African Americans to vote for the first time, changing the composition of federal and state offices and changing legislative outcomes. Unless and until we expand the electorate (e.g., with voting by mail, automatic or same-day registration), we are undercutting our democracy and undercutting winners’ claim to moral and political legitimacy.

If nothing else, . . .

Continue reading.

Mitch Crow is all in favor of voter suppression. Anything to “win.”

Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2019 at 6:22 pm

Christmas-present idea

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Tom Gilb wrote a wonderful book, Principles of Software Engineering Management, and also gave conference presentations. He had good insights and practical advice. For example, when faced with developing some software, spend some time learning what the current state of the art is in that area: how fast that sort of software does its job, or how accurately, or what whatever. That’s important to know because if you just pick some goal out of the air, the goal might exceed what the best systems now do, and (as he said) you then are not doing engineering, you’re doing research—and research can take a long time and a lot of money to deliver results.

As it happens, back in the day (1983), I went to a summer conference on expert systems held at Stanford, and they happened to talk about this same idea. They were working on an expert system to diagnose some medical issue quickly, with later tests (that took more time) that would show whether the diagnosis was correct or not. The best their expert system could do was like 86% correct. (I don’t remember the actual figures, but these are in the ballpark.) They were pulling their hair out and thinking it was all a failure, when someone had the idea to look at the accuracy rate of human doctors. That turned out to be something like 78%. So they were doing a lot better, but hadn’t thought to check ahead of time on the state of the art. (As an aside: autonomous cars don’t have to be perfect, they just have to have an accident rate substantially better than that of human drivers.)

His primary rule regarding software engineering management was “Early!” Start the analysis early, start the design early, start testing early, and so on. The earlier you start, the more time you have to exercise hindsight on what you did and thus improvement. (I used to say, “Hindsight is your most powerful tool. Use it early and often.” This was in the context of Forth programming, where you can run each new command as you create it.)

And I really took that to heart. If I was given an assignment to write a report due in a month, on the day I got that assignment I would at least do a first draft of a rough outline: break the ice and start seeing where I needed to focus my efforts initially, since the outline would reveal the areas in which I needed to know more. Some of the outline would be stubs or placeholders, and those showed what I needed to learn or develop or research.

And still I do it. My shave of the day I select the afternoon of the day before. And I like to start my Christmas shopping in August.

With that prelude, take a look at these.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2019 at 5:48 pm

Posted in Daily life

A hot tip for those who use hearing aids

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I was told when I got my hearing aids that I would probably want to replace them after about 5 years. I assumed that was because of technology improvements (faster, better, cheaper), but since they cost into the thousands, I thought I would just stick with them (particularly since the “cheaper” didn’t seem to materialize).

But what happens is not that better hearing aids become available. What happens is that the old hearing aids stop working. Moisture from the skin can get inside (because the case has to be able to be opened for changing the battery and there are small gaps around the controls) and eventually the insides corrode. This is for the behind-the-ear hearing aids. Those cheap models that fit inside the ear last very little time at all.

BUT The Eldest just passed along a great tip. At the right is a photo of the bag (carefully sealed) that I have in my hall closet. I use the little packs for various things—for example, I throw one inside the salt shaker—and The Wife has also found use for one from time to time. Plenty left, as you see.

So the idea is that when the hearing aids are removed at night, they go into a tightly sealed box with one of two of these. The hearing aids I have did come with a very nice box (as they damn well should) that has a pretty tight-fitting lid, but I will now keep the box inside a sandwich-sized ziplock bag (whether hearing aids are inside or not), to keep the Silica Gel active. I can replace the gel packs once month or so. I have a good supply (as you see).

UPDATE. The Eldest points out the 8 best hearing aid dryers in 2019.

UPDATE 2: I just ordered this one.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2019 at 4:58 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

‘It’s a superpower’: how walking makes us healthier, happier and brainier

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Amy Fleming writes in the Guardian:

Taking a stroll with Shane O’Mara is a risky endeavour. The neuroscientist is so passionate about walking, and our collective right to go for walks, that he is determined not to let the slightest unfortunate aspect of urban design break his stride. So much so, that he has a habit of darting across busy roads as the lights change. “One of life’s great horrors as you’re walking is waiting for permission to cross the street,” he tells me, when we are forced to stop for traffic – a rude interruption when, as he says, “the experience of synchrony when walking together is one of life’s great pleasures”. He knows this not only through personal experience, but from cold, hard data – walking makes us healthier, happier and brainier.

We are wandering the streets of Dublin discussing O’Mara’s new book, In Praise of Walking, a backstage tour of what happens in our brains while we perambulate. Our jaunt begins at the grand old gates of his workplace, Trinity College, and takes in the Irish famine memorial at St Stephen’s Green, the Georgian mile, the birthplace of Francis Bacon, the site of Facebook’s new European mega-HQ and the salubrious seaside dwellings of Sandymount.

O’Mara, 53, is in his element striding through urban landscapes – from epic hikes across London’s sprawl to more sedate ambles in Oxford, where he received his DPhil – and waxing lyrical about science, nature, architecture and literature. He favours what he calls a “motor-centric” view of the brain – that it evolved to support movement and, therefore, if we stop moving about, it won’t work as well.

This is neatly illustrated by the life cycle of the humble sea squirt which, in its adult form, is a marine invertebrate found clinging to rocks or boat hulls. It has no brain because it has eaten it. During its larval stage, it had a backbone, a single eye and a basic brain to enable it to swim about hunting like “a small, water-dwelling, vertebrate cyclops”, as O’Mara puts it. The larval sea squirt knew when it was hungry and how to move about, and it could tell up from down. But, when it fused on to a rock to start its new vegetative existence, it consumed its redundant eye, brain and spinal cord. Certain species of jellyfish, conversely, start out as brainless polyps on rocks, only developing complicated nerves that might be considered semi-brains as they become swimmers.

Sitting at a desk all day, it’s easy to start feeling like a brainless polyp, whereas walking and talking, as we are this morning, while admiring the Great Sugar Loaf mountain rising beyond the city and a Huguenot cemetery formed in 1693, our minds are fizzing. “Our sensory systems work at their best when they’re moving about the world,” says O’Mara. He cites a 2018 study that tracked participants’ activity levels and personality traits over 20 years, and found that those who moved the least showed malign personality changes, scoring lower in the positive traits: openness, extraversion and agreeableness. There is substantial data showing that walkers have lower rates of depression, too. And we know, says O’Mara, “from the scientific literature, that getting people to engage in physical activity before they engage in a creative act is very powerful. My notion – and we need to test this – is that the activation that occurs across the whole of the brain during problem-solving becomes much greater almost as an accident of walking demanding lots of neural resources.”

O’Mara’s enthusiasm for walking ties in with both of his main interests as a professor of experimental brain research: stress, depression and anxiety; and learning, memory and cognition. “It turns out that the brain systems that support learning, memory and cognition are the same ones that are very badly affected by stress and depression,” he says. “And by a quirk of evolution, these brain systems also support functions such as cognitive mapping,” by which he means our internal GPS system. But these aren’t the only overlaps between movement and mental and cognitive health that neuroscience has identified.

I witnessed the brain-healing effects of walking when my partner was recovering from an acute brain injury. His mind was often unsettled, but during our evening strolls through east London, things started to make more sense and conversation flowed easily. O’Mara nods knowingly. “You’re walking rhythmically together,” he says, “and there are all sorts of rhythms happening in the brain as a result of engaging in that kind of activity, and they’re absent when you’re sitting. One of the great overlooked superpowers we have is that, when we get up and walk, our senses are sharpened. Rhythms that would previously be quiet suddenly come to life, and the way our brain interacts with our body changes.”

From the scant data available on walking and brain injury, says O’Mara, “it is reasonable to surmise that supervised walking may help with acquired brain injury, depending on the nature, type and extent of injury – perhaps by promoting blood flow, and perhaps also through the effect of entraining various electrical rhythms in the brain. And perhaps by engaging in systematic dual tasking, such as talking and walking.”

One such rhythm, he says, is that of theta brainwaves. Theta is a pulse or frequency (seven to eight hertz, to be precise) which, says O’Mara, “you can detect all over the brain during the course of movement, and it has all sorts of wonderful effects in terms of assisting learning and memory, and those kinds of things”. Theta cranks up when we move around because it is needed for spatial learning, and O’Mara suspects that walking is the best movement for such learning. “The timescales that walking affords us are the ones we evolved with,” he writes, “and in which information pickup from the environment most easily occurs.”

Essential brain-nourishing molecules are produced by aerobically demanding activity, too. You’ll get raised levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which, writes O’Mara, “could be thought of as a kind of a molecular fertiliser produced within the brain because it supports structural remodelling and growth of synapses after learning … BDNF increases resilience to ageing, and damage caused by trauma or infection.” Then there’s vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which helps to grow the network of blood vessels carrying oxygen and nutrients to brain cells.

Some people, I point out, don’t think walking counts as proper exercise. “This is a terrible mistake,” he says. “What we need to be is much more generally active over the course of the day than we are.” And often, an hour at the gym doesn’t cut it. “What you see if you get people to wear activity monitors is that because they engage in an hour of really intense activity, they engage in much less activity afterwards.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2019 at 9:24 am

Every Noise at Once, revised and expanded

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I’ve blogged this before, but they have continued to develop it. From the link (under the now-very-large music map):

Every Noise at Once is an ongoing attempt at an algorithmically-generated, readability-adjusted scatter-plot of the musical genre-space, based on data tracked and analyzed for 3,295 genres by Spotify as of 2019-08-01. The calibration is fuzzy, but in general down is more organic, up is more mechanical and electric; left is denser and more atmospheric, right is spikier and bouncier.

Click anything to hear an example of what it sounds like.

Click the » on a genre to see a map of its artists.

Be calmly aware that this may periodically expand, contract or combust.

How We Understand Music Genres explains how this thing got started.
A Retromatic History of Music (or Love) follows these genres across years.
Spotify New Releases by Genre uses them to scour this week’s new releases.
We Built This City On follows them to their cities of origin.
Genres by Country breaks them down by strength of association with countries.
Songs From the Edges flings you through a blast-tour of the most passionate genrecults.
Songs From the Ages samples demographic groups.
Songs From the Streets samples cities.
Drunkard’s Rock wanders around for a really long time.
The Sounds of Places plots countries as if they were genres.
Spotify World Browser shows Spotify editorial programming in different countries.
Every Place at Once is an index of the distinctive listening of individual cities.
Hyperspace House Concerts looks for music playing only in particular places.
Every School at Once is an index of the distinctive listening of students by school.
Genres in Their Own Words maps genres to words found in their song titles.
The Needle tries to find songs surging towards the edges of one obscurity or another.
The Approaching Worms of Christmas tries to wrap itself around things I usually fight.
Every Demographic at Once explores listening by country, age and gender.
Or there’s a dynamically-generated daily summary of Spotify Listening Patterns by Gender.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2019 at 9:00 am

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