Later On

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

Archive for the ‘Techie toys’ Category

Snapchat Can Be Sued Over Role In Fatal Car Crash, Court Rules

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As a joke, I sometimes would suggest that sharp curves on roads should be posted with a sign giving the highest speed to date someone has traversed the curve. I meant it as a service for those competing for a Darwin award. It was a joke.

But Snapchat seemed to have liked the idea in general. Bobby Allyn reports for NPR:

Three young men got into a car in Walworth County, Wis., in May 2017. They were set on driving at rapid speeds down a long, cornfield-lined road — and sharing their escapade on social media.

As the 17-year-old behind the wheel accelerated to 123 miles per hour, one of the passengers opened Snapchat.

His parents say their son wanted to capture the experience using an app feature — the controversial “speed filter” — that documents real-life speed, hoping for engagement and attention from followers on the messaging app.

It was one of the last things the trio did before the vehicle ran off the road and crashed into a tree, killing all of them.

Was Snapchat partially to blame? The boys’ parents think so. And, in a surprise decision on Tuesday, a federal appeals court ordered that the parents should have the right to sue Snap Inc.

The ruling, from a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has set off intense debate among legal watchers about the future of a decades-old law that has shielded tech companies from civil lawsuits.

The boys’ parents sued Snap Inc., the maker of Snapchat, after the tragedy. They alleged that the company “knowingly created a dangerous game” through its filter and bore some responsibility.

The district court responded how courts usually do when a tech platform is sued in a civil lawsuit: by dismissing the case. The judge cited the sweeping immunity that social media companies enjoy under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

The law provides legal immunity to tech companies from libel and other civil suits for what people post on sites, regardless of how harmful it may be.

But the appeals court’s reversal paves a way around the all-powerful law, saying it doesn’t apply because this case is not about what someone posted to Snapchat, but rather the design of the app itself.

Continue reading. There are more details of the decision, and they are interesting — partly because different courts have given different decisions in similar cases. Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 May 2021 at 10:39 am

Bradley University’s Game Design Program Ranks Top 10 in the World Again

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Here’s the report. I’ll mention in passing that The Son is departmental chair.

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23 March 2021 at 3:41 pm

Odd water-droplet behavior examined and explained

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9 March 2021 at 5:05 pm

Great desks

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I happened to come across this video of a fantastic desk:

That turned out to be the tip of a rather large (and ornate and ingenious) iceberg. For example,

But that’s small potatoes compared to:

As you can see, this is a rabbit hole, and you can spend a lot of time being amazed at the design and craftsmanship of these old desks. See also this beautiful desk, this fine (and useful) table, and this desk full of secrets.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 February 2021 at 11:02 am

Parts & Recreation: Revell’s world of plastic models

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Ed Sexton, a former race car driver and a longtime manager at Revell, practicing his favorite hobby: building tiny plastic model cars.

Jeff Greenwald writes in Craftsmanship magazine:

1. “Very Much an Art”   
2. An Uniquely American Industry  
3. Industrial Ikebana   
4. Models of Obsession  
5. Could Revell Take on Lego?  
6. A Physical Story

My first plastic model, financed by weeks of snow shoveling, was Revell’s 1965 Gemini spacecraft. The kit had 93 parts, including two Lilliputian astronauts that I manipulated—with real envy—into the impossibly cramped capsule that would carry them into orbit. I remember bits of the process: the pages of the Long Island Press, spread over the kitchen table; the dizzying aroma of Testor’s glue; the UNITED STATES decals that seemed permanently attached to their backing until they suddenly slid off, in useless fragments, onto the painted plastic.

Over the years I built scores of models. I was a geeky adolescent outsider, sneaking into American pop culture through tiny plastic doors. While my peers were collecting Beatles singles, I exulted in the 1966 Batmobile that perched on my desk, honoring me with its silver rocket tubes and fine orange piping. A panoply of popular movie monsters snarled on my bookshelves. Each one had taken hours to assemble, but what else was I doing? Pong was still six years away.

Five decades later, in November, 2014, Warner Brothers re-released the entire original series of 120 Batman episodes. The news inspired an immediate visit to the neighborhood hobby shop, even though I hadn’t been inside one in decades.

In the 1960s and 70s, plastic models had sprung—as effortlessly as Pop-Tarts—from the aerospace programs, car designers and TV shows they mimicked. What were today’s inspirations? Once I arrived in the hobby shop, what amazed me most was that plastic models still existed—thousands of them, including a vintage Batmobile.  Yet unlike the models I built as a kid, most of these now bore a “Made in China” disclaimer. Even Revell, a company whose very logo looks like an American flag, had outsourced. But Revell’s home office was still in Illinois, apparently going strong. How could this be?


Sprawled over the flatlands some 30 miles northwest of Chicago, the boundaries of Elk Grove Village embrace the largest industrial park in the United States. More than 3,600 businesses have set up branches or headquarters in this former farming community. Next to Chicago itself, it’s the second largest manufacturing area in the country. Incongruously, the town still hosts its namesake: a herd of elk imported from the plains of Montana in the 1920s, now living in resigned boredom near the eastern edge of the Busse Woods Forest Preserve.

Brian Eble, vice president of marketing for Revell—still America’s premier model company—met me at the breakfast buffet of Elk Grove’s Comfort Inn, hand outstretched. Eble grew up on an Illinois farm and looks like a middle-aged superhero: close-cropped gray hair, a strong jaw, broad shoulders. An avid builder as a kid, he spent breakfast waxing philosophical about how model making had changed since our childhoods.

“Take a model car,” he suggested. “They used to carve the originals out of bass wood, and fashion the mold from that. Now, of course, it’s all done with computers. But the magic is the same. You’re taking a real car,” he said, lifting his java, “and shrinking it down to the size of this cup.

“Here’s the question,” he said. “How do you infuse craftsmanship into . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including many more photos.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2021 at 2:07 pm

Cellphones cripple social skills

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Ron Srigley writes in MIT Technology Review:

A few years ago, I performed an experiment in a philosophy class I was teaching. My students had failed a midterm test rather badly. I had a hunch that their pervasive use of cell phones and laptops in class was partly responsible. So I asked them what they thought had gone wrong. After a few moments of silence, a young woman put up her hand and said: “We don’t understand what the books say, sir. We don’t understand the words.” I looked around the class and saw guileless heads pensively nodding in agreement.

I extemporized a solution: I offered them extra credit if they would give me their phones for nine days and write about living without them. Twelve students—about a third of the class—took me up on the offer. What they wrote was remarkable, and remarkably consistent. These university students, given the chance to say what they felt, didn’t gracefully submit to the tech industry and its devices.

The usual industry and education narrative about cell phones, social media, and digital technology generally is that they build community, foster communication, and increase efficiency, thus improving our lives. Mark Zuckerberg’s recent reformulation of Facebook’s mission statement is typical: the company aims to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”

Without their phones, most of my students initially felt lost, disoriented, frustrated, and even frightened. That seemed to support the industry narrative: look how disconnected and lonely you’ll be without our technology. But after just two weeks, the majority began to think that their cell phones were in fact limiting their relationships with other people, compromising their own lives, and somehow cutting them off from the “real” world. Here is some of what they said.

“You must be weird or something”

“Believe it or not, I had to walk up to a stranger and ask what time it was. It honestly took me a lot of guts and confidence to ask someone,” Janet wrote. (Her name, like the others here, is a pseudonym.) She describes the attitude she was up against: “Why do you need to ask me the time? Everyone has a cell phone. You must be weird or something.” Emily went even further. Simply walking by strangers “in the hallway or when I passed them on the street” caused almost all of them to take out a phone “right before I could gain eye contact with them.”

To these young people, direct, unmediated human contact was experienced as ill-mannered at best and strange at worst. James: “One of the worst and most common things people do nowadays is pull out their cell phone and use it while in a face-to-face conversation. This action is very rude and unacceptable, but yet again, I find myself guilty of this sometimes because it is the norm.” Emily noticed that “a lot of people used their cell phones when they felt they were in an awkward situation, for an example [sic] being at a party while no one was speaking to them.”

The price of this protection from awkward moments is the loss of human relationships, a consequence that almost all the students identified and lamented. Without his phone, James said, he found himself forced to look others in the eye and engage in conversation. Stewart put a moral spin on it. “Being forced to have [real relations with people] obviously made me a better person because each time it happened I learned how to deal with the situation better, other than sticking my face in a phone.” Ten of the 12 students said their phones were compromising their ability to have such relationships.

Virtually all the students admitted that ease of communication was one of the genuine benefits of their phones. However, eight out of 12 said they were genuinely relieved not to have to answer the usual flood of texts and social-media posts. Peter: “I have to admit, it was pretty nice without the phone all week. Didn’t have to hear the fucking thing ring or vibrate once, and didn’t feel bad not answering phone calls because there were none to ignore.”

Indeed, the language they used indicated that they experienced this activity almost as a type of harassment. “It felt so free without one and it was nice knowing no one could bother me when I didn’t want to be bothered,” wrote William. Emily said that she found herself “sleeping more peacefully after the first two nights of attempting to sleep right away when the lights got shut off.” Several students went further and claimed that communication with others was in fact easier and more efficient without their phones. Stewart: “Actually I got things done much quicker without the cell because instead of waiting for a response from someone (that you don’t even know if they read your message or not) you just called them [from a land line], either got an answer or didn’t, and moved on to the next thing.”

Technologists assert that their instruments make us more productive. But for the students, phones had the opposite effect. “Writing a paper and not having a phone boosted productivity at least twice as much,” Elliott claimed. “You are concentrated on one task and not worrying about anything else. Studying for a test was much easier as well because I was not distracted by the phone at all.” Stewart found he could “sit down and actually focus on writing a paper.” He added, “Because I was able to give it 100% of my attention, not only was the final product better than it would have been, I was also able to complete it much quicker.” Even Janet, who missed her phone more than most, admitted, “One positive thing that came out of not having a cell phone was that I found myself more productive and I was more apt to pay attention in class.”

Some students felt not only distracted by their phones, but morally compromised. Kate: “Having a cell phone has actually affected my personal code of morals and this scares me … I regret to admit that I have texted in class this year, something I swore to myself in high school that I would never do … I am disappointed in myself now that I see how much I have come to depend on technology … I start to wonder if it has affected who I am as a person, and then I remember that it already has.” And James, though he says we must continue to develop our technology, said that “what many people forget is that it is vital for us not to lose our fundamental values along the way.”

Other students were worried that their cell-phone addiction was depriving them of a relationship to the world. Listen to James: “It is almost like . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 December 2020 at 7:59 am

Blob Opera: Watch, Listen, and Experiment

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Google engineers having fun. Go to this page, then click on everything to see what happens and click-and-drag the blobs. More entertaining than you might expect.

More experiments here.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 December 2020 at 10:32 am

3-D Printed Mathematical Constructs (as art)

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The photo shows an early iteration of the three-dimensional analogue of the two-dimensional Hilbert Curve, a space-filling curve defined by David Hilbert. This is one of a variety of 3-D printed mathematical constructs made by Henry Segerman.

I found this example and explanation of negatively curved surfaces interesting:

And this, too, is interesting:

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2020 at 7:44 am

Good things that everyone else already knows about: Olive oil edition

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I just recently — very recently, when I was making the garlic soup — discovered how great olive-oil drizzling spouts are. These are narrow spouts that dispense a thin stream of olive oil so that “drizzling” can be a fact instead of a word.

Up to now, I’m embarrassed to say, I just poured olive oil from a bottle. I buy a 3-liter tin of a good (true) extra-virgin olive oil, and I refill as needed a dark-green 1-quart bottle that originally held California Olive Ranch EVOO. That bottle does have a pour-insert as shown in the image at the right — which, as you note, shows pouring and not drizzling. In the garlic soup recipe (and, in fact, in general), you definitely want to drizzle: first over the bread cubes before toasting in the oven, and then over the soup as it’s served. A pour would be way too much.

So I bought a drizzler top. This article discusses good drizzler tops. Note that some drizzler tops are designed to fit bottle openings smaller than most bottles. I got an Oxo drizzler which works well and does fit the bottle I use but not so tightly as I would like — I’m thinking I might get a wine bottle to use: dark glass, half bottle (so not so tall), but I’m also looking at the top recommendation at the link.

In summary: if you use EVOO get a drizzler top. It’s a big improvement. I suspect there’s a reason olive oil producers don’t provide drizzler tops and instead encourage pouring.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 October 2020 at 7:25 pm

Airline Pilots Landing At LAX Report A Guy In Jetpack Flying Alongside Them

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Things get weirder and weirder. A guy doing this, apparently:

Here’s the report. From that report:

So, apparently, someone has a system that is similarly capable, but they are stupid enough to actually use it in incredibly congested airspace as part of an undeclared stunt. It is possible that this was some sort of a drone that was made to look like a dude with a jetpack, although that seems like a longshot. The only other thing we can think of is that this may have been some sort of flying car/mobility solution that was just described as a jetpack. Flying at jet approach speeds and at 3,000 feet, among other issues, still seems like a reach with this scenario. Regardless, the dangerous realities of such a stunt are the same irrespective of the technology behind the craft that was involved.

Pilots certainly see and report some weird things while plying their trade, but this is unique even by our standards. We are going to look into it. In the meantime, this serves as yet another reminder of the strange times we are living in.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 September 2020 at 9:37 am

Epic (Fortnite) attacks Apple

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Matt Stoller explains the play and the stakes in BIG:


Last week, powerful video game publisher and software developer Epic Games introduced a new version of its Fortnite video game for the iPhone. The key change was that players could bypass Apple’s payment system for in-game purchases, and use a proprietary Epic payment option instead. Such a move breached Apple’s terms for its app store, because Apple requires anyone who makes an app for the iPhone to use the Apple payments system. Such a requirement is how the corporation makes money directly from the app store; Apple’s payment system charges a 30% tax for any revenue generated by any iPhone app during its first year. Apple’s control over its app store has become a source of controversy, mostly because the corporation exploits its power over iPhones to extract high fees from developers.

During the Congressional hearings over the market power of large technology firms, Apple CEO Tim Cook insisted that Apple had little market power over mobile apps, because developers and consumers could always switch over to different types of phones or platforms on which to create software. Epic’s attempt to restructure terms with Apple is a great test case for Cook’s argument. One would expect, based on Cook’s views, that developers of popular apps have leverage against Apple, if Apple had little market power over app stores. Certainly, Epic’s Fortnite is popular, a massive multi-billion dollar game, as close to a must-have app as possible.

Without blinking, however, Apple blocked Epic’s app from its store, which shows that Cook’s argument about a competitive market was just wrong. No one, no matter how powerful, has any bargaining leverage with Apple over its app store, and competition is certainly not disciplining the iPhone maker. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney responded to Apple’s ban not with a modification of its app, but with an antitrust suit.

I suspect that a legal approach was not what Epic wanted to do. Epic has experience using the marketplace to address monopoly power; a few years ago, Epic took on Valve, which owned a monopoly game store, Steam, by launching its rival Epic Games Store. And Epic has used Fortnite’s draw to force interoperability among PC, Mac, Xbox One, PS4 and mobile platforms. But because Apple’s monopoly power over the iPhone is so total, Epic chose to use the legal and political system to make an aggressive set of claims that, if accepted by a judge, would essentially destroy Apple’s control over the app ecosystem on the iPhone.

These claims include the argument that Apple has tied its payments system to its app store, which is a fairly strong legal argument that judges have often (though not always) upheld. It also included an argument that the app store is what is called an ‘essential facility,’ and that Apple as a monopolist in control of such a facility has to share it with competitors or customers on reasonable terms. Judges have generally not upheld this kind of claim. So Epic is not only trying to take its dispute with Apple to the courts, it is also seeking to overturn court precedent, and encourage Congress to write statute overturning judge-made law.

As its head lawyer, Epic hired antitrust royalty, Christine Varney, who served as the Assistant Antitrust Attorney General under Obama, and before that worked for Netscape during the Microsoft battle in the 1990s. The suit draws heavily from the House Antitrust Subcommittee investigation and hearing, with multiple footnotes citing information unearthed by investigators, as well as a quote from Rep. Hank Johnson.

At the same time as Epic filed the case, the company also released a brutal ad parody of Apple’s legendary ad unveiling the Macintosh, an ad originally released during the 1984 Superbowl that showed a female athlete wearing bright colors smashing an Orwell-style Big Brother character, who was not-so-subtly understood to be IBM. In the parody, Epic reframed the ad, portraying Apple as Big Brother, with a female video game character doing the smashing. Epic also launched a hashtag, #FreeFortnite. Millions of people watched the video, and millions more have been engaged over Apple’s monopoly power. Clearly, this fight is going to be big and public.

What Sweeney is doing isn’t just some battle over money, though it is that (and game-makers like Epic do like money). Sweeney has been an outspoken critic of tech monopolists for years. In 2017, he argued that Google and Facebook were “a grave threat to our democracy.” It seems likely that the Antitrust Subcommittee investigation and the rising sentiment against monopolization opened a political opportunity for Epic.

But then Apple chose the nuclear option. Epic Games has a large  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 August 2020 at 1:36 pm

Formula 1 brakes

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When humans focus on some issue, the rapidity of the evolution of the solutions — meme evolution  — is remarkable, as are the rich detail and depth of results. Some problems, of course, have simple solutions, which sometimes are ingenious, but a problem of any complexity, involving various tradeoffs, can result in amazing solutions.

This video about how the brakes in a Formula 1 car work is fascinating to me for that reason. I started watching F1 videos on YouTube after watching the Matt Damon and Christian Bale movie Ford v. Ferrari, about Ford’s entry into (and temporary dominance of) racing, though the race of focus was Le Mans, not an F1 race. (The differences between Le Mans race cars and F1 cars are numerous, starting with the fact that F1 cars are open-wheel and Le Mans cars are not. Moreover, the racing strategy and requirements are quite different — an F1 car would fail terribly at Le Mans and vice versa — see this story.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2020 at 9:14 am

Posted in Techie toys, Technology

Paper-airplane designs

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Have fun.

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21 June 2020 at 5:40 pm

Attempts to build squirrel-proof bird feeder

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Ninja squirrels — impressive.

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29 May 2020 at 10:03 am

Good uses for a dead laptop

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Interesting stuff:

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14 February 2020 at 11:30 am

Posted in Daily life, Techie toys, Technology, Video

Tagged with

Sunglasses designed to foil facial recognition systems

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We live in odd times.

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14 January 2020 at 6:33 pm

Just in time for Christmas: Fully automatic crossbow

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1 December 2019 at 9:07 pm

Posted in Techie toys, Technology

Pump-action archery

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2019 at 3:49 pm

Posted in Techie toys, Technology

Trump throws kids’ lives under the bus in hopes of being re-elected

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“Who cares whether kids die, so long as I don’t risk losing any votes?” President Trump implicitly asks. Annie Karni, Maggie Haberman, and Sheila Kaplan report in the NY Times:

It was a swift and bold reaction to a growing public health crisis affecting teenagers. Seated in the Oval Office in September, President Trump said he was moving to ban the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes as vaping among young people continued to rise.

“We can’t have our kids be so affected,” Mr. Trump said. The first lady, Melania Trump, who rarely involves herself publicly with policy announcements in the White House, was there, too. “She’s got a son,” Mr. Trump noted, referring to their teenager, Barron. “She feels very strongly about it.”

But two months later, under pressure from his political advisers and lobbyists to factor in the potential pushback from his supporters, Mr. Trump has resisted moving forward with any action on vaping, while saying he still wants to study the issue.

Even a watered-down ban on flavored e-cigarettes that exempted menthol, which was widely expected, appears to have been set aside, for now.

On a flight on Nov. 4, while traveling to a political rally in Kentucky, Mr. Trump was swayed by the advisers who warned him of political repercussions to any sweeping restrictions. Reviewing talking points on the ban aboard the plane with advisers, Mr. Trump decided to cancel the administration’s rollout of an announcement, which included a news conference that Alex M. Azar II, the health and human services secretary, was planning to hold on the issue the next day. Instead, another meeting was proposed.

The discussion aboard the Nov. 4 flight was first reported by The Washington Post.

White House officials pushing for action were still holding out hope that there would be an announcement of a ban on flavored e-cigarettes, with an exemption for menthol, last week.

The proposed ban had gathered significant support earlier this fall, as the crisis over teenage vaping, with year-over-year increases, coincided with a sprawling outbreak of severe lung injuries. While most of the illnesses, now affecting more than 2,000 people and causing more than 40 deaths, have been attributed to vaping THC products, the e-cigarette industry also became the target of criticism for luring minors into using its products.

A lack of federal action prompted several states to try to institute bans on flavored e-cigarettes, spurring the vaping and tobacco industries to mount legal challenges and lobby lawmakers and the White House against regulatory restrictions that would impede adult e-smokers.

Juul Labs, the largest seller of e-cigarettes in the country and the target of several federal investigations, had taken most of its flavors off the market in anticipation of a national flavor ban. The company had said that its mint-flavored pods made up about 70 percent of its sales; menthol was 10 percent; and two tobacco flavors accounted for 20 percent. But many other look-alikes, in flavors like chai and melon, have sprung up to fill the void left by Juul’s actions. . .

Continue reading.

The Washinton Post report from Josh Dawsey and Laurie McGinley:

Everything seemed ready to go: President Trump’s ban on most flavored e-cigarettes had been cleared by federal regulators. Officials were poised to announce they would order candy, fruit and mint flavors off the market within 30 days — a step the president had promised almost two months earlier to quell a youth vaping epidemic that had ensnared 5 million teenagers.

One last thing was needed: Trump’s sign-off. But on Nov. 4, the night before a planned morning news conference, the president balked. Briefed on a flight to a Lexington, Ky., campaign rally, he refused to sign the one-page “decision memo,” saying he didn’t want to move forward with a ban he had once backed, primarily at his wife’s and daughter’s urging, because he feared it would lead to job losses, said a Trump adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal deliberations.

As he had done so many times before, Trump reversed course — this time on a plan to address a major public health problem because of worries that apoplectic vape shop owners and their customers might hurt his reelection prospects, said White House and campaign officials. He also believed job losses tied to the ban would cost him as he sought to trumpet economic growth. It was the latest example of the chaotic way policy is made — and sometimes unmade — in a White House where the ultimate decider often switches gears after making a controversial vow, whether on combating gun violence, pulling troops from Syria or promising to deliver an Obamacare replacement plan.

Officials said the blowback to Trump’s vow to ban most flavored e-cigarettes had rattled him. In an aggressive social media campaign — #IVapeIVote — advocates claimed the ban would shut down thousands of shops, eliminating jobs and sending vapers back to cigarettes. The president saw protesters at events and read critical articles. His campaign manager, Brad Parscale, privately warned the ban could hurt him in battleground states, said a person who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. Trump was now upset with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who had taken the lead in rolling out the plan, said three officials familiar with the discussions.

“He didn’t know much about the issue and was just doing it for Melania and Ivanka,” said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share the discussions.

In recent months, the president’s wife and daughter, who had become increasingly alarmed about youth vaping, were pressing him to take action.

An HHS spokeswoman declined to comment on the vaping deliberations.

Whether or when the administration will unveil a new policy to combat underage vaping is now unclear

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 November 2019 at 8:34 pm

Cool, smart, paper airplane

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2019 at 9:30 am

Posted in Techie toys

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