Later On

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

Archive for the ‘Daily life’ Category

The magnitude of one’s ignorance: How ink is made

leave a comment »

I am constantly being made aware of how much I do not know. Take, for example, this brief video on how ink is made. I had no idea…

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2017 at 12:36 am

A user report on the efficacy of citric acid to soften shaving water

leave a comment »

In the Guide, I suggest several options if you find yourself having to shave with hard water, one of which is to use citric acid. I just received an email from Craig B. reporting on his experience in trying it:

We moved to Pleasanton CA which has very hard water – coming from San Ramon CA whose water is super-soft. So I read with interest your comments on using citric acid. After looking in the local stores without success, I bought some on Amazon. Was I ever surprised!! I expected easier lathering and better lather quality – which is just what I got. What I was not expecting, and the bonus mentioned above, was that:

  • The razor itself is much cleaner with only a very small amount of buildup.
  • The razor rinses more completely, presumably because the lather is of better quality (not pasty and sticking to razor and blade).
  • The sink itself in squeaky clean after shaving. The walls of the sink are slick and shiny, eliminating criticism from SWMBO.

Thanks so much for a great tip.

In asking his permission to quote his email, I mentioned that citric acid also is used as a salt substitute. It’s a white crystalline powder that works well in a salt shaker for the table. It adds lemony zest but no salt.

Your input on using citric acid as a salt substitute is good for several reasons. One is that salt is to be avoided for pretty much everyone in so far as possible. Secondly, this is particularly timely because the docs are telling us (in our 70s) to control our blood pressure by eliminating salt and avoiding soups and (diet) sodas and such because they contain too much sodium.. So using citric acid as a substitute sounds like a wonderful idea for us. Thank you so much for the extra tip.

Sounds like I need two salt shakers – one for the table and one for the sink. 🙂

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2017 at 3:46 pm

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

Tech still does not take discrimination seriously, allowing it to flourish

leave a comment »

Klint Finley writes in Wired:

The tech industry isn’t big on dress codes, employee handbooks, or rules. The Silicon Valley management philosophy is simple: Hire talented coders, give them tools to do their jobs, and get out of their way. The best coders should be rewarded, and those who just can’t hack it should be let go.

The problem is that, all too often, workplace problems boil down to more than just code. Yesterday widely respected programmer Susan J. Fowler revealed in a blog post that she quit her job at the transportation company Uber last year after facing sexual harassment, discrimination, and, perhaps most worryingly, a corporate culture that let all that harassment and discrimination slide.

One of the most striking things about the allegations is how unsurprising they are. Uber has always had a cavalier attitude about rules and regulations, so it’s easy to imagine that attitude extending to sexual harassment and employment laws in general. But the issue goes far beyond Uber. Stories like Fowler’s are common in the tech industry, which has never quite gotten a handle on how to hold employees accountable for anything other than “performance.”

Fowler, a frequent speaker at conferences and author of the book Production-Ready Microservices, claims that shortly after she joined Uber, her manager propositioned her. She reported him to Human Resources, she writes, but was told that because it was the manager’s first offense, no action would be taken. She had the choice between staying on his team, where she was allegedly told that she might receive a poor performance review in retaliation, or transfer to another team. She chose to transfer.

Fowler writes that she later found out it was not this manager’s first offense at all, and that although he eventually left the company, he wasn’t disciplined—even after more women had reported him for sexual harassment.

That was just the beginning. Fowler describes a dysfunctional, Game of Thrones-esque company culture, with management admitting that she was given a bad performance review for non-work related reasons, and, ultimately, a manager threatening to fire her if she continued reporting discrimination to the HR department. A common refrain, each time she complained to HR about a harasser, was that the person in question was a “high performer.”

Uber didn’t respond to our request for comment, but The New York Times reports that CEO Travis Kalanick has promised an investigation. Media mogul and Uber board member Arianna Huffington promised on Twitter that she will work with Uber’s chief of human resources, Liane Hornsey, on the investigation.

Uber has a troubled history on gender relations. In 2014, Kalanick told GQ that he called the company “Boob-er” because it has made him more attractive to women. That same year, the company ran an ad in France promising to pair customers with “hot chick” drivers. When journalist Sarah Lacy suggested that this sort of sexism was a problem, Uber senior vice president Emil Michael suggested digging up dirt on her to ruin her reputation, according to BuzzFeed. Kalanick tweeted that Michael’s comments didn’t represent Uber’s views, but Michael kept his job.

The company isn’t the only tech darling to face these kind of problems, though. Fowler’s story retraces what has become a familiar sequence of events: A female employee complains about sexual harassment and/or discrimination to HR. The company takes no action. The employee takes to the internet to complain. Media attention follows. The company promises to investigate. Sometimes someone resigns in scandal. But the industry itself stays the same.

In 2014, a former employee of the code hosting and collaboration site GitHub claimed one of the company’s programmers sexually harassed her, and that one of the founder’s wives had also repeatedly harassed her—despite multiple reports to the company’s HR department. After a flurry of media coverage, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2017 at 2:09 pm

How Elton Musk remembers things (and gets insights)

leave a comment »

Absolutely fascinating answer on Quora.com by Denis Matei, “aspiring psychologist.” In particular, watch the video in the answer. It builds very slowly and doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere, even after the request for an example, but then at the end it just comes together very quickly. And it has impact. Answer begins (but do read the whole thing—and watch that video all the way through):

Elon uses the “Richard Feynman” technique from what I have read about his approach, mixed with “first principles”.

…which is basically in simple terms: don’t try to remember, but try to understand; when you understand, you will remember automatically.

Sounds simple? But yet, so many people don’t do it like that. They try to cram loads of info and facts into their brains, especially students, with the result of forgetting a lot of it.

So how does Elon do it?

‘’One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”

Quote from Elon Musk on Reddit.

So what Elon basically does is, he looks at the most fundamental principle of any subject matter, instead of separating the subject matters into smaller pieces. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2017 at 5:27 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

Beyond fact-checking: After the catastrophic media failure of 2016, the press must master “crucial evidence”

leave a comment »

Paul Rosenberg writes in Salon:

The media failed disastrously during the 2016 presidential election. The only questions, really, are how and why — and what can be done about it. This is especially urgent as President Donald Trump, with his repeated attacks against the press, only threatens to make matters worse.

The problem can be thought of in a threefold way: First, issues virtually disappeared from the campaign. Second, the resulting overemphasis on personality and politics was badly skewed toward controversy and sensationalism, which strongly disfavored Hillary Clinton as her emails got far more sustained and prominent attention than Trump’s much more varied range of serious problems. Third, although fact-checking flourished as a media subgenre, it utterly failed to protect American democracy against a pathological liar with authoritarian ambitions who was able to deflect attention repeatedly without ever answering fundamental questions.

The failure of fact-checking is particularly frustrating to the “reality-based community,” but the problem may well be that they’re not actually being reality-based enough. That’s the suggestion that philosopher William Berkson advanced recently in the Columbia Journalism Review. Fact-checking may not be enough, he argues. We need something much bolder: policy-checking. Conceptually, it’s reminiscent of the Office of Technology Assessment, an office established in 1972 to provide Congress with objective and authoritative analysis of complex scientific and technical issues. (It was abolished by Newt Gingrich when he became speaker in 1995. Archive website here.)

But Berkson’s concept is broader both in scope — encompassing all policy issues — and in terms of its primary audience, the press and the public. The media’s failures weren’t due to “lack of ability or courage,” he argues, but to “the lack of a clear and strong model for drawing fair and objective conclusions about the candidates’ policies.”

Without such a model, the media relied instead on a confused notion of “balance,” which “misled them time after time,” Berkson said. If Trump was visibly terrible, “balance” required that Clinton be terrible too, regardless of whether they were actually comparable.

Berkson’s background is in the philosophy of science. He was a student of the legendary Karl Popper — famous for articulating the crucial role of falsifiability in science — and has written about how social science can be made as rigorous as the physical sciences. His notion of policy-checking builds on that foundation: If social science can be made that rigorous, then policies based on it can be as well, and journalists can benefit from a policy-check resource, just as they now benefit from fact-checkers. Beyond that, if policy-based reporting can be made, it becomes more likely that it will be done widely and well. The more that happens, the more reality-based attitudes and values will tend to rub off on everyone involved — journalists, audiences and politicians.

It’s not a magic cure. There can be no single silver-bullet remedy for a sweeping systemic failure. But this idea could play a crucial role in helping to tip the balance moving forward, and altering the whole system of how journalism is done — moving it in a positive, empirically grounded direction, directly opposed to the disintegration epitomized by the rise of fake news. If that is to happen, the idea needs to be more widely known, understood, critiqued and refined. That’s why Salon reached out to Berkson to elaborate on his concept: its foundations, possibilities and requirements. This interview was conducted by email, and been lightly edited.

Given that the media failings in the 2016 campaign are painfully well-known, I’d like to begin by asking you to explain your model and what makes it uniquely powerful. You’ve said that it “involves the identification of crucial evidence.” What is “crucial evidence,” and what sets it apart from other kinds of evidence?

Evidence is “crucial” when you have two different theories which predict different events in the same situation. In such a situation, evidence of what actually happened will tell you that one theory is definitely false — the one contradicted by the observable facts — while the other theory is confirmed. That’s crucial evidence. To use a simplified, standard example, seeing a black swan refutes the theory that “all swans are white.” At the same time, it confirms the conflicting theory that “all swans are white or black.”

It’s important that while crucial evidence refutes the contradicted theory, it doesn’t prove that the confirmed theory is right. The next swan might be green, contradicting the theory that all swans are black or white. This asymmetry — that refutation is logically stronger than confirmation, and that confirmation is not proof — turns out to be critically important in social science and for evaluating social policies.

Can you give us an example from the history of science?

In my first book, I wrote about the discovery of radio waves by Heinrich Hertz. At the time, there were two rival viewpoints. One thought that the influence of electricity and magnetism on distant objects was instantaneous — action at a distance. The other theory said the forces take time to travel through space. When Hertz demonstrated the electromagnetic waves, radio waves, with a finite velocity, it ended the debate. Hertz’s effort was a “crucial experiment,” but there are crucial observations of what is happening naturally, without any experiment.

This is important, as reporting what you observe is at the heart of journalism. And crucial observations follow the same logic. The most famous one, a hundred years ago, refuted Newton’s theory of gravity, and confirmed Einstein’s. Einstein’s theory predicted that the sun’s gravity would bend light rays passing near it. Eddington figured out that during a solar eclipse he could see the stars close to the sun, and they would appear shifted from their positions in a way he could calculate from Einstein’s theory. The stars did appear to shift as Einstein’s theory predicted, and in contradiction to the predictions of Newton’s theory.

You’ve written elsewhere about the widespread failings of the social sciences to employ this model, and develop testable theories. Could you say a few words about that problem, and why it need not persist?

Many have argued that because of the complexity of society, it is impossible to identify plausible testable theories in social science. However, they assume that social theories have to fully predict the evolution of a social system to be testable. For testability, as I wrote some years ago, it is enough to identify patterns that excludesome possibilities. My wife, Isabelle Tsakok, a development economist and also a former Popper student, took up the challenge of identifying such patterns in economic development.

In her book, she showed that five conditions are necessary for poor countries with traditional agricultures to transform into modern wealthy economies. She was able to document that all now-wealthy countries, including the U.S., met the conditions during their transformations. The conditions are not sufficient, as some countries have fulfilled them and still not succeeded. So the pattern doesn’t fully predict what will happen if a country does fulfill all the conditions. But because the conditions are necessary, vital to broad-based economic growth, the theory still has huge policy implications.

You say that the analysis needed to identify crucial evidence is sometimes accessible to journalists, and you cite as an example the fact that tax cuts have never paid for themselves in U.S. history. Yet, we continue to hear claims to the contrary. What is that evidence? 

The data are unequivocal on tax cuts not paying for themselves fully, and you can see it in many analyses such as this one from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Tax cuts can increase growth somewhat in the short term, but in the U.S. they have never created enough growth to make up for the lost revenue by increased tax receipts. In fact, in the past, investment of tax funds has regularly grown the economy more than cutting taxes and leaving the money in the hands of the rich. For example, the economy grew more under tax-increaser Bill Clinton than tax-cutter Ronald Reagan, and more under tax-increaser Obama than tax-cutter George W. Bush. This claim of tax cuts paying for themselves has never been respectable amongst professional economists; even George W. Bush’s economic advisor Greg Mankiw once labeled those who advanced this claim as “charlatans and cranks.”

Why does this qualify as “crucial evidence”? . . .

Continue reading.

We must use the knowledge we have accumulated, else what good is it?

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2017 at 3:59 pm

Duck and cover: More than 200 Republicans in Congress are skipping February town halls with constituents

leave a comment »

It’s pathetic, and it shows that the Republicans in Congress know that they are not representing the interests of their constituents and they plan to continue to act against their constituents’ interests. Alex Thompson reports at Vice News:

Members of Congress are set to return to their districts this weekend for their first weeklong recess since Donald Trump’s inauguration. Heading home during legislative breaks is nothing new, but this year most Republicans are foregoing a hallowed recess tradition: holding in-person town halls where lawmakers take questions from constituents in a high school gym, local restaurant, or college classroom.

After outpourings of rage at some early town halls — including crowds at an event near Salt Lake City yelling “Do your job!” at Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee  — many Republicans are ducking in-person events altogether. Instead they’re opting for more controlled Facebook Live or “tele-town halls,” where questions can be screened by press secretaries and followups are limited — as are the chances of becoming the next viral meme of the Left.

For the first two months of the new Congress, the 292 Republicans have scheduled just 88 in-person town hall events — and 35 of those sessions are for Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, according to a tabulation conducted by Legistorm. In the first two months of the previous Congress in 2015, by contrast, Republicans held 222 in-person town hall events.

Republicans like Sen. John Thune of South Dakota and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin hosted multiple in-person town halls at the beginning of 2015 but have scheduled none for the first two months of 2017. Thune’s office declined to discuss this on the record and Johnson’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Legistorm updates its list daily with software that scrapes from congressional schedules, Facebook pages, press releases, and Twitter accounts of members of congress and their staff. As a result, Legistorm said that the 88 events may not be the ultimate total because there can occasionally be a brief lag time.

For example, Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina created two town hall events on Facebook on Tuesday afternoon, and Legistorm had not listed them as of Wednesday morning. Sanford told VICE News that he thinks in-person town halls “are important, particularly getting out of space you control and getting into space that’s neutral.”

“What happens in politics is that over time, you can get increasingly insulated from people that have a strongly held point of view that’s different [from yours],” he said. Sessions like tele-town halls aren’t a good substitute, he said, because “oftentimes they will screen their calls and those forums can be manipulated.”

Republicans who get roughed up at their town halls have taken to dismissing the attendees as professional organizers. Chaffetz called his hostile crowd “more of a paid attempt to bully and intimidate” him over White House ethics issues, a sentiment echoed by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who said that recent marches and protests against Trump are “a very paid, AstroTurf-type movement.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2017 at 3:07 pm

Posted in Congress, Daily life, GOP

When to worry

leave a comment »

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-11-33-06-am

That’s from a Mark Frauenfelder post, which also includes some links, including a link to William B. Irvine’s “Twenty-First Century Stoic — From Zen to Zeno: How I Became a Stoic,” which begins:

This is the first in a series of three essays, written by a Stoic, about what it means to practice an ancient philosophy in the modern world. (Read the second essay.)I never intended to become a Stoic. Who, after all, were the Stoics? They were those grim, wooden figures of ancient Greece and Rome whose goal it was to stand mutely and take whatever the world could throw at them. Right?

About a decade ago, though, I began a research project on human desire. The goal of the project was to write a book on the subject, but I also had a hidden agenda in conducting my research: I was contemplating becoming a Zen Buddhist and wanted to learn more about it before taking the leap. But the more I learned about Zen, the less it attracted me.

Practicing Zen would require me to suppress my analytical abilities, something I found it quite difficult to do. Another off-putting aspect of Zen was that the moment of enlightenment it dangled before its practitioners was by no means guaranteed. Practice Zen for decades and you might achieve enlightenment — or you might not. It would be tragic, I thought, to spend the remaining decades of my life pursuing a moment of enlightenment that never came. Zen doubtless works for some people, but for me, the fit wasn’t good.

Then something quite unexpected happened. As part of my research, I investigated what ancient philosophers had to say about desire. Among them were the Stoic philosophers — people like Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus — about whom I knew little. As I read them, I discovered that they were quite unlike I imagined they would be. Indeed, it soon became apparent that everything I “knew” about the Stoics was wrong. They were neither grim nor wooden. If anything, the adjective that I thought described them best was “buoyant” or maybe even “cheerful.” And without consciously intending to do so, I found myself experimenting with Stoic strategies for daily living.

Thus, when I found myself in a predicament — being stuck in traffic, for example — I followed the advice of Epictetus and asked myself what aspects of the situation I could and couldn’t control. I couldn’t control what the other cars did, so it was pointless — was in fact counterproductive — for me to get angry at them. My energy was much better spent focusing on things I could control, with the most important being how I responded to the situation. In particular, I could employ Stoic strategies to prevent the incident from spoiling my day.

I also started making use of the Stoic technique known as negative visualization: I would periodically contemplate the loss of the things and people that mean the most to me. Thus, when parting from a friend, I might make a mental note that this could conceivably be the last time I would see the friend in question. Friendships do end, after all, and people die suddenly. Doing this sort of thing may seem morbid, but the practice of negative visualization is a powerful antidote to a phenomenon that will otherwise deprive us of much of the happiness we could be enjoying: negative visualization prevents us from taking for granted the world around us and the people in it.

When they hear about negative visualization, people often get the wrong idea. They think the Stoics advocate that we spend our days dwelling on all the bad things that can happen to us. This, of course, would be a recipe for a miserable existence. What the Stoics in fact advocate is not that we dwell on bad things but that we contemplate them, a subtle but important difference. They also recommend that we engage in negative visualization not constantly but only a few times each day and for only a few seconds each time. Our negative visualizations, then, will take the form of fleeting thoughts.

Visualizing in this manner has the effect of resetting the baseline against which we measure our happiness, and it can have a profound and immediate effect on that happiness. As the result of negatively visualizing, we might find ourselves taking delight that we still possess the things that only moments before, we took for granted, including our job, our spouse, our health — indeed, our very existence.

One of my favorite visualization exercises involves the sky. When I see it, I periodically remind myself that the sky didn’t have to be blue. But on most days it is blue, and a gorgeous blue, the hue of which changes subtly from hour to hour. Then I reflect on how wonderful it is that we inhabit a universe that can, on a nearly daily basis, present us with such a spectacle. A simple exercise, to be sure, and some would say a silly one. But if you can learn to appreciate the sky — something most people take utterly for granted — there is a good chance that you can learn to appreciate your life as well and thereby enjoy a happier existence than would otherwise be the case.

I mentioned above that the benefits to be derived from practicing Zen are uncertain. Stoicism, by way of contrast, does not dangle before its adherents a moment — maybe — of life-transforming enlightenment. Instead, it provides a body of advice for them to follow and a set of strategies for them to employ in everyday life. The strategies in question are easy to use. (Indeed, I suspect that many of the readers of this essay have already, in the last few seconds, successfully attempted negative visualization.) That said, I should add that it takes rather longer to internalize Stoic advice and strategies so that one’s response to the events of daily living becomes reflexively Stoical, at which point one can truly claim to be a Stoic.

My experiments with Stoicism were sufficiently encouraging that I abandoned my plans to become a Zen Buddhist and decided instead to follow in the footsteps of Zeno of Citium, the Greek who formulated Stoicism in about 300 B.C. I decided, in other words, to become a walking, talking anachronism: I would . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2017 at 11:40 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

%d bloggers like this: