Monday, June 27, 2016
Driverless cars are making great leaps on existing roads. Imagine if roads started to be modified to help driverless cars. Sensors in the roadway might be expensive and take a long time, but I have to think there are much simpler things that could be done, optically, without digging, to make driverless cars better.
The other consideration is cars themselves. If cars were built to inter-communicate, that would also go a long way to making driverless work better. I am thinking even before 100% of cars are driverless, existing cars could be retrofitted with some sensors and communications devices, to help them interact with driverless cars. I do think this would have to become a regulatory mandate. One hopes that the decrease in insurance costs could self-fund it.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
So for decades I have cherished this thought experiment. Knowing that there are industrial processes to produce gem-grade diamonds, but that they have not been cost-effective, I liked to think--what if someday a top, gem-grade 1-carat diamond could be produced for $100? It would still be as beautiful. Would it still be cherished? Obviously I doubt it would be. It's all scarcity thinking--something else I generally dislike.
Well, it sounds like that day is getting closer. Not $100/carat, but 40% cheaper. Just give it time.
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
We bought a 2104 Prius V (the wagon-ish large version) 16 months ago. There are plenty of comprehensive review elsewhere, this is my idiosyncratic review.
First thing to understand--this is a "V", the BIG Prius. It is every bit a mid-size car. 6" longer, 3" taller, 1" wider than the standard, compact Prius. I am 6-1, and very comfortable in the rear seats.
SummaryPrius V is a great value. No hybrid premium at all--if anything, maybe a bit cheaper than much of the competition. A little fun-challenged, though.
- Price & trimlines. There are only 3 trimlines. We bought the base, which had almost everything we wanted. No heated seats, but those are easily available aftermarket. Sunroof might have been nice. Otherwise, not regrets.
- Huge shout-out for all 4 windows both having auto-down AND auto-up. This on the base trimeline!
- The proximity key is very convenient. Walk up to the car, it unlocks itself.
- Click once on the fob unlocks all doors--not just driver . I've always thought it was a dumb "because we can" feature that you have to double-click to unlock all doors. (I wish proximity did the same)
- Locking the car with the gob elicits a mild chirp, doesn't beep the dang horn.
- Acceleration is fine. Nothing to write home about. It is tuned to be mild. But if you need acceleration, stomp on the pedal, you will be fine.
- Both driver and passenger makeup mirrors have sensors--turn light on and off automatically.
- Rear-seat space is excellent. What takes it to the next level is fold-back rear seats. Very nice that this is in the base model--the Subaru Forester we recently purchased only includes this simple, but invaluable feature in the +1 trimline.
- Storage is excellent--2 glove boxes, plus a capacious center console that can accommodate a "boutique" size box of tissue.
- Low-maintenance. Especially the brakes.
- The confirmation that doors are locked is a mild beep--not an obnoxious honk.
- Can fold the passenger seat flat--infrequently needed, but very nice when you do need it.
- Display is U-G-L-Y
- Pushbutton start is convenient, but the flip side is it messes with longstanding habits. E.g., if you are driving with someone else, it is quite possible to exit the car, key in your pocket, and not realize it.
- More complicated to jump-start.
- Copying the proximity key is horrdily expensive.
- Cup holders are inconvenient--the passenger cup-holder is way over on the right, and doesn't accommodate large sizes.
- USB port is only for data, does not charge.
- Center display is kind of goofy.
Without indulging too much in 20/20 hindsight, I think it is fair to say that contemporary Americans are largely dumbfounded by this "my state over my country" attitude. It was the wrong side of history.
I think Republicans leaders who support Trump are a contemporary equivalent of the state-loving Virginians*, except with much less in the way of principles to mitigate their historically abhorrent position. Supporting Trump has been indefensible at least from the date of his outrageous defamation of Mexican illegal immigrants. But after nonstop Trump outrages since, numerous Republican leaders have baldly exposed their morally doomed position: "I wouldn't trust him with the nuclear codes...but I support my party"; "that is the textbook definition of racism...[but I have to support my party]".
*(Sorry, the "my state over my country" attitude wasn't exclusive to Virginians, but that is the most prominent example.)
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer wants to require the Federal Aviation Administration to establish seat-size standards for commercial airlines, which he says now force passengers to sit on planes "like sardines."
Monday, April 25, 2016
Sunday, April 10, 2016
So far, it's really nice. Blazingly fast, almost perfectly silent--it takes a lot to get the fan to come on.
My one complaint--and it is not trivial--NO BUILT-IN WIRELESS!! I couldn't believe it. Did not even occur to me to check if this was an included feature. I happened to have an Edimax multi-use router/range-extender/access point lying around, so the problem was easily overcome, but this was a major disappointment.
I will be interested to see how this machine ages. I future-proofed it as much as possible by insisting on 16 Gb of RAM, and an SSD (the latter is a no-brainer, I even required that for the most recent family laptops). I am hoping to get at least 4 good years out of it. By that I mean 4 years where I never think "I wish my computer were faster"--not just 4 years of "works ok".
Sunday, February 28, 2016
Friday, February 26, 2016
It would give the Republicans the opportunity to demonstrate equal-opportunity refusal to consider, and point to that consistency as evidence they are acting out of principle, not for political advantage.
The political gift wouldn't have to end there, either. If the Democrats do win the election, when President Clinton II then nominates a more liberal candidate, the Republicans can attack that person as an extreme choice, and point to the sweet moderation exhibited by her predecessor.
Sunday, January 17, 2016
Basic/AdvancedAdvanced features create a User Interface challenge. Some great, feature-rich programs (looking at you, Sparx EA) are really hard to learn in part because the common UI commands are totally interspersed with advanced, obscure ones.
I like a UI approach that tries to work the 80/20 rule. The 20% main, common features are super-discoverable, front-and-center. The 80% complex, advanced, and obscure features are segregated in a pen labeled "Advanced". Of course this is an ideal, sometimes the problem is that while most users only require 20% of the feature set, everybody has a different 20%.
Not Auto ID cards (at least not mine). I get an ID card every 6 months. So if the old one expires Feb 28, I receive a new one 5 weeks before that, but the new one isn't effective until March 01. I don't want to wait and hope I remember, on Feb 28, to make the switch. So I go ahead and "install" the new ID card in my glovebox, but I can't remove the old one yet.
Not a big thing, but a minor, seemingly stupid, thoughtless and unnecessary annoyance.
Tuesday, January 05, 2016
My current employer is the first with an Employee Stock Purchase Plan (ESPP). As is typical with such plans, it offers a 15% discount, and up to 10% of one's base salary can be directed to the ESPP. So even if you are generally disinclined to invest in specific stocks, as opposed to broadly diversified mutual funds, this is too good a deal to pass up.
However, what I didn't realize until recently, when I had reason to sell some of the stock, was that it is better than a 15% discount. Considerably better, for several reasons.
First, getting to allocate 10% of your base salary to stock, and buying it at a 15% discount, sounds like a 1.5% bonus. But the benefit is actually the reciprocal of 1.00 - 0.85, or 17.6%. So noticeably better than a straight 15%.
Then there are the tax effects. Two considerations here. First, Qualified ESPPs are not subject to payroll taxes. So no 7.65% FICA. Second, so long as you hold the stock long enough, that discount is taxed as long-term capital gains, rather than ordinary income. Your mileage will vary, depending on tax bracket, but a typical scenario would be a 15% rate, rather than 28%. The state's bite, in my state of MN, is unchanged at about 8%. So instead of a total FICA + Fed income tax + State income tax bite of 42%, your rate is only 23%. That means your take home is .77/.58, or 32.7% greater.
So the 17.6% discount, multiplied by a 32.7% benefit from the tax treatment, gives you an effective benefit of 2.34% of your total income, assuming you invest the max 10%. More than a 50% increase in the apparent 1.5% benefit. Most 401k matching is 3%, so one way to view that 2.34% gift is that is almost doubles your 401k match.
But Wait, There's More!
There is more to that 401k parallel. Just as a 401k gives you the opportunity for tax-deferred compounding, so does ESPP compensation--so long as you hold the stock. (That does have a downside, though. Over time, you will accumulate a very large position in a single stock--the non-diversified anti-pattern. Worse yet, it is the stock of your own employer. So my preference is to flip the stock. Hold it long enough to get favorable tax treatment, but then sell it--even as you continue to buy more to get that discount on the new purchase.
One More Thing
Some ESPPs have a "look-back" provision. This establishes the purchase price as the lower of the price at the first day of the period or the last day of the period. This has a couple of benefits versus the last day of the period. In ordinary circumstances, the first day price would be a few percent lower than the last day price. So getting the first day price is more than ample compensation for having your contributions tied up for 6 months, earning no interest. Moreover, if the stock does particularly well, the value of the lookback is greatly increased. On the other hand, in the event of a downturn, you are still protected, receiving the last day price.
 I'm pretty sure this is true. I found websites that say this, but I had to look really hard, and some seemed to suggest that this might change.
 The holding period is tricky. Many people will know there is a 1-year holding period to receive the very favorable long-term capital gains rate. But it turns out there is a 2-year-from-grant-date for the discount to be treated as a capital gain, rather than ordinary income.
Saturday, January 02, 2016
Finally, paper is restored, usually by whoever is really motivated and possibly in hurry for hard copy. What is their reward?--pages and pages of spooled print jobs spitting out.
It feels like there should be a better way. I propose this guardedly, since it is easy to dream up "smart" solutions, only to find they add too much user complexity and sometimes behavior the user finds unpredictable.
Okay, that disclaimer done with, here is what I think might work....If a printer is offline for more than an hour (and remember, nowadays the OS knows when that happens), I would like to see a pop-up that asks the user:
Printer back online. Print jobs were spooled while printer was offline. Would you like to: 1) Print all pending print jobs? 2) Cancel all pending print jobs? 3) Select which jobs to print?
Then, just one more touch to allow sophisticated users with specialized uses case to avoid OS-nag: a checkbox on the dialog that says "Do not ask me this in the future".
Monday, December 28, 2015
- Higher education's purpose should be vocational
- The optimal form of vocational training is higher education
is a big, expensive mistake. I believe apprenticeship and on-the-job training is both more economical, and more effective, for providing most types of vocational training. And the mission of higher education (it is called "higher" for a reason) should be breadth of learning, cultivation of intellectual curiosity and development of analytical thinking.
Anyway, this quote from a chef, regarding the closing of Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, is right on:
Jones said with the foodie boom, demand for chefs is higher than ever. He said Le Cordon Bleu grads aren’t ready to run a kitchen.“Kids come out of culinary school and say: ‘I want a job as a sous chef.’ And I say, ‘No, you have to start at the bottom, like anyone else!’” Jones said.Those entry-level jobs cutting, blanching and glacéing vegetables don’t pay very well. Jones said grads can come out of two years of culinary school with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans.“You learn infinitely more in a restaurant like this, than you would anywhere else, virtually,” Jones said. “The idea that anyone would want to come into this industry with debt is ludicrous.”
Saturday, December 26, 2015
This article makes the point, and claims statistically that something like 25% of income inequality may be explained by the contribution of assortive mating.
Saturday, December 19, 2015
Let's choose to make this the first time we don't glorify this tragedy with talk of rock and roll and the demons that, by the way, don't have to come with it. Skip the depressing T-shirt with 1967-2015 on it.
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Note that urgency may coincide with priority. It just means that the topic is time-limited. Could be "hey, I'm at the grocery store, is there anything you want me to get?" Or could be "I'm at the hospital, come see me".
So a text can serve as a reasonable proxy for urgency. What about priority?--i.e., it doesn't matter if you look at this in the next few minutes, but this is really important, so don't ignore it. Users of Outlook will be familiar with the red exclamation mark that indicates priority. Generally A Useful Thing. As far as I know, there is no widely-accepted equivalent in standard email. There should be.
Which brings me to my point: the distinction between email and text should be erased. They should both just be a message. Any message can have 2 distinct attributes, one for urgency, one for priority. The recipient can control the settings on their device accordingly. E.g.:
- Most of the time, my phone would play a chime and pop up a window, for anything urgent.
- At certain times, such as important meetings, I would suppress this and only do it if both urgent and priority.
- In my case, I check email often enough, so no special settings for Priority alone--just iconic representation, a la the Outlook exclamation point.
The last thing to consider is IM. I think that is a variation on urgency. It would be urgency, with an intention to conduct a more prolonged conversation. So if I received an IM request, but didn't feel like an extended conversation, rather than ignore it entirely, I could send a reply, but implicitly decline the IM, based on choosing to reply as standard urgent message.
I want all of these to be a subset of email, archived and searchable with all the same rules and tools that are well-established for email.
Oh, and one more thing--no proprietary forms of communications. Whatever is built into Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat should be a subset of email. The app of origin could just be an attribute (e.g., I might ignore emails from Twitter contacts).
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
The cost of those pedestal drawers though, is beyond belief. A quick, I think represetantive search on Amazon indicates $250-$350. Per drawer. If the machine costs $600 (on the cheap side compared to what some people pay, but that's what we paid for what I find to be a very nice unit), that is like 50% for a freaking drawer!!
Screaming business opportunity. Idea #1: create universal pedestals with adapters for specific makes. Idea #2: create a platform that fits both washer and dryer, with drawers underneath. Basically a pre-fab version of this kind of DIY project.
Saturday, November 21, 2015
For a decade, since the advent of HDTV in my household, I have been looking for better ways to turn my TV into a photo screensaver. With the Wii, I could use SD cards. That was OK, I would do it for special occasions, but way too inconvenient, on multiple dimensions.
We got HDTV #2 about a year ago, and I have been using Chromecast for the same purpose. That works okay, but it still isn't that good, and totally doesn't lend itself to casual, ad-hoc management on the TV itself.
I'm not even completely sure what feature set I am looking for, but I am sure there is potential. (Whether there is potential to have high enough volume to make money--I have no idea. This might be a good one for Apple to build in.)
I think I understand some of what they are saying--it is not a panacea, and probably will do little to deter mass thefts. But it seems to me like it is an important defense against targeted thefts:
- Targeted doxing, as happened to the CIA director, where someone who is your personal enemy wants access to your email to embarass you.
- Acquaintance-theft. Where someone you know gets your password (watching you type it at work, etc) and wants to access your accounts. This would include domestic incidents.
- Public or shared-computer theft, via the dreaded keystroke-logger.
Monday, November 16, 2015
Seems like it would be good if the Uber app would be smart enough to know whether it has an accurate location from GPS, or a questionable one from WiFi or cell tower. Not 100% sure if this is allowed in Android, let alone iOS, but I am certain it is possible. And very desirable.
Saturday, October 31, 2015
I can't believe highlighting hasn't been built into modern browsers. Then the key feature to go with it is the single page archive. You know, like the MHT file IE has had for a decade or so?
The other day I got tired of pasting to Word, and looked for Firefox extensions. Good ones exist for each purpose, and together they give me most of what I want.
But seriously, this should be in the browser.
Saturday, October 10, 2015
What I have in mind are not the powerful algorithms that deliver up the results, but rather the more basic but crucial details of software craftspersonship, that help insulate us careless humans from our own limitations. Examples:
- Ignoring hyphens and their ilk. I.e., Google treats any non-alpha character as a space or wildcard. This seems like a small thing, but there are a lot of hyphens and slashes out there, waiting to mess up search results.
- Spellchecking search Terms
- Ignoring capitalization (this one is fairly widespread in your average search implementation).
- Allowing the user to override the compensations, with the simple and generally well-known convention of enclosing search terms in quotes. An example of being smart, but not too smart.
What I find is that very few match the attention-to-detail and ease-of-use of Amazon. In some cases, no doubt that reflects Amazon's massive advantages of scale, They can afford a lot more user-experience and software development. But then again, some things are pretty basic, and easily copied.
Three things that I hate come to mind:
1. Verified by Visa. As far as I am concerned, it is awful. I have read defenses of it, so maybe there is another side to the story. But if there is--Visa and their partners have done a terrible job of telling that story. If Amazon can get along fine without it, why would a consumer expect or put up with it elsewhere? (And as noted in my post, an unforgivably poor job of implementing the VbV process during checkout. Given the subject of this post, an ironic counter-example of lack of attention to usability).
2. CVV codes. I HATE having to remember this when I check out from a website. Adding to the irritation--if you left out some other required piece of data, it rests the CVV code. Creating both irritating and often confusing behavior. E.g., I enter everything but my phone number, for example. The SUBMIT fails, prompting for my phone number. Fine. I re-submit, but it fails again, now because of missing CVV code. Irritating if I realize, confusing if I think there is some other field still missing.
3. Captchas. Oh how I loathe them. I must be especially captcha-challenged, but I often find it takes 2-3 tries to get it right.
One possibility is that Amazon's scale may somehow give them a critical advantage that smaller sites don't have. Maybe they feel they can take losses that smaller sites aren't willing to take. Or maybe they extract better terms from credit card companies. But from the consumer perspective, it hardly matters--just more factors to making Amazon the path of least resistance.
(Obviously no security technology is perfect. Speaking out loud has privacy implications that swiping a finger does not. Supposedly impersonation or pre-recording is not a problem, though.)
A couple of years ago, I gave $50 to an issue-oriented charitable cause. It was a one-off donation, given as a show of support when their issue was front-and-center. I had no intention of becoming a regular supporter.
I should have donated anonymously.
Ever since, I receive 2-4 mailings per month, from this and related organizations, soliciting additional donations. Donations which most definitely will not be forthcoming. If we value the cost per mailing at $0.50, easily half of the value of my donation has been consumed, thus far, in soliciting further support.
It's sickening. Besides the junk-mail nuisance and natural resource waste, the sheer inefficiency of the process is appalling. I'm not singling out this organization, I'm pretty sure this is the dark nature of the organizing/fundraising process. Years ago, I read snarky advice, somewhat but not entirely tongue-in-cheek, that if you wanted to inflict harm on a cause you dislike, the thing to do would be to give them a small amount of money. $15, say. Then sit back and watch as they spend several times that amount in the following years, in the hopeless effort to inveigle further contributions.
I wish I had remembered that bit of wisdom.
Friday, October 09, 2015
It's never the thing. It's always another thing that steers the conversation away from the terrifying jagged edges of modernity toward the comfort of repeating each other's confirmation bias back and forth, such that Solyndra and Benghazi are metonyms that make no sense to most people but are hugely powerful talismans of their increasingly lonely faith.
Monday, October 05, 2015
Sunday, October 04, 2015
From Freakonomics Interview:
SLAUGHTER: The book is about okay, we’re stuck. I mean, it’s Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, and the unfinished business is the unfinished business of the movement for full equality between men and women. And in a nutshell, what I’m arguing is that if we’re going to get to real equality between men and women, we have to focus less on women and more on elevating the value of care and expanding the choices and roles for men. And that’s sort of counterintuitive, right? Because what we’ve been doing is, we measure our progress in the women’s movement by how many women CEOs we have, women leaders of all kinds, women politicians. And I’m all for having more women in high places. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for it. We need it. But that metric and that focus is not going to get us there. Because it’s leaving a huge number of women out — all the women at the bottom — and it’s assuming that you can get to equality between men and women by changing women’s roles but not changing men’s roles.
DUBNER: Right. You also, the phrase you use is that we need to “resocialize men,” which as a man sounds vaguely threatening, but not really. But, but you write about not only adult men who are in the workforce and maybe those CEOs that we’re talking about, but also young men, boys, and how they should think about the future work world and the future family world, as well. So talk to the men for a minute. This program is probably I’m guessing now roughly 70 percent male listeners. So this is a great platform.
SLAUGHTER: Oh, that’s so interesting.
DUBNER: What were some of the kind of basic signposts that we need to rearrange, or get rid of, or maybe the new ones we need to have written?
SLAUGHTER: That’s great. So let me start by saying how I got to this realization that we have to — I think I prefer, “expand choices and roles” to “resocialize,” which does sound vaguely Orwellian. So here’s what I realized: I have two sons, and I looked at my sons and I thought, “You know, if I’d had a daughter we’d be raising her 100 percent differently than the way my mother was raised, and even differently than I was raised,” although my father was very progressive and he raised me to have a career. But if I looked at my sons, I thought, “I’m raising my sons pretty much exactly the way my father was raised.” I mean, we’re raising them to have a more active role as fathers. My father never changed a diaper. Certainly my husband changed plenty. And I expect my sons to. But we’re still saying to men, “Your worth in society is a function of your breadwinning. It’s a function of how much money you can make and how high you can rise in your career.” And that is a very limited set of choices. It’s the flip side of saying to women, when my mother was raised you know, “Your worth in society depends on can you get married and can you have children.” And my point is all of us should have access to both. As a woman I absolutely want to be able to compete. I want to have a career. That’s been fabulous. But I sure don’t want to do that at the expense of also being a mother and a wife and a sister and a daughter. And so, what I now say to my sons is, “If you believe in equality and you marry a woman or a man, whatever, and you believe that you’re going to support that woman’s career, then it may require you being the lead parent and your spouse to be the lead breadwinner.” And that’s been the situation in our marriage. And they understand that I couldn’t have a big career unless Andy played that role. So that’s the place where I’m really saying to men, if you believe in equality, it can’t be, “Okay, I believe in equality but I’m going to take every promotion I get, and if you get a promotion, I’m not going to move for you.”
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Saturday, August 08, 2015
T-Mobile Basic 1 Gb Plan
$50 for first Subscriber
$30 for second
$10 each for Subscribers 3-10.
Verizon Basic 1 Gb Plan
$50 per Subscriber
So for a family of 4, Tmo is $100, Verizon is $200. For bigger families, or combined families (we have our 5 plus my Mom plus a friend on our Tmo plan), the difference, at the extreme, is $160 vs a whopping $500.
Friday, July 31, 2015
So what if it where built into a fridge? The water could be pre-cooled and re-used. Would be a pretty cool differentiator, for high-end appliances. Would certainly appeal to me. Less need to keep a wide selection of pre-chilled drinks.
Saturday, June 27, 2015
I did a little research on alternatives. Unlike toilet seat rings, the alternative is not so obvious, but I think they exist. For hinges, some kind of viscous, lithium or teflon grease is probably best. For locks, there is a lot of debate, but probably the same.
In any case, DO NOT use WD-40! In fact, here is a bonus PSA: ratchet back your WD-40 use in general. It is not primarily a lubricant, it is primarily a solvent. It has short-term lubricating properties as a secondary effect, but there are many better choices, as this comprehensive article in Popular Mechanics shows. Talk about a habit that nobody un-learns!
Saturday, June 13, 2015
It has long seemed ridiculous to me that infotech is so over-concentrated in Silicon Valley - San Francisco. Those areas have gone from outrageously expensive to insanely expensive. Terrible places, even for elite tech workers, to try to afford to raise a family. And lots of drawbacks for employers--high rents, high salaries, job-hopping. I know, I know, there are the crucial benefits of concentration and proximity to venture capital. Still.
So I was heartened by this NPR report, featuring an ex-SVer, saying similar things:
"[Jerry Davis'] advice for young people: Forget the Bay Area.Davis praises Detroit as an alternative. Myself, I like Minneapolis-St. Paul and Bloomington, IN. But most important is for the idea of other locations for infotech innovation to take hold.
'You spend a whole lot of your time on freeways. It's expensive, it's annoying. The weather is beautiful, but basically the Bay Area has turned into Los Angeles,' Davis says. 'All the things that people hate about LA are now true of the Bay Area.' "
And the home prices are worse. The median price in Silicon Valley now tops $1 million. In Detroit, it's $38,000.
That's appealing to Aaron Mason, a 36-year-old San Franciscan. "Having a yard, having a garden, starting a family, those kinds of things," says Mason, imagining a possible move to Michigan.
I even use a compression setting on Podcast Addict to compress the time between NPR stories. I really don't care who the reporter is, where they are reporting from, and I have always hated the precious interlude music.
The most extreme version of this is all the inane pre-game hype before sporting events. From a purely commercial perspective, this form of empty content does make better sense than the useless intro filler. But I don't really understand why viewers would tolerate it, most particularly in the DVR age. If you are a superfan who wants lots of backstory, etc, , fine, but superfans aren't going to learn anything useful from the hype-rich, content-deficient pregame garbage. The internet is what they need.
So although I called out NPR in my extreme example, they actually score pretty high in this regard. The NPR ethos in general is to find important and fascinating stories, ply their master storyteller skills, and let the story tell and sell itself. No hype required.
Saturday, June 06, 2015
So anyway, I found myself undertaking this chore for the first time since I was 16 and helped my Dad do it. Although I hadn't done it myself, I had talked with others who had done it, so I was aware that the standard for sealing the seat to the sewer pipe remained the wax ring. The messy, sloppy, unforgiving wax ring, loathed by millions of happless homeowners for at least a century.
The wax ring has major disadvantages:
- Messy to put on
- Infinitely messier to replace
- Necessary to replace, every time you remove the toilet
- Unforgiving, so if you in any way goof up, you have to: A) clean up the wax, again; B) go out and buy another wax ring; C) repeat.
- Can be a problem if the height difference of the new floor is too great.
It has two advantages
- Well-known, so easy default
Twice the cost, but so much better. In addition to alleviating the mess, it has more advantages, which I think ultimately pay for the difference:
- Holds the bolts nicely in place.
- That, plus the fact that it is forgiving, means that you may be able to do the job without a helper.
- Re-usable means if you have to move the toilet in the future, you don't have to buy a new seal.
- The ease of the remove-replace cycle brings another, subtle advantage. Most homeowners avoid removing the toilet, if possible. That means the tedious, aesthetically imperfect technique of painting around it. No longer necessary, if moving it is quick, easy and neat.
Friday, May 29, 2015
Monday, May 25, 2015
The Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obamacare) envisioned each state setting up its own insurance exchange. There was surprise when many states declined to do so. In the states that did so, the path to full administrative functionality is sometimes slow in the making. There's a really obvious question to be asked, and it feels like nobody is asking it. That question is--Why? Why would anyone ever think it makes sense for each state create its own Exchange??
Each state Exchange entails specifying, designing, coding testing and maintaining a major, complex, integrated information system. Why do the same thing 50 separate times? This is exactly the opposite of the logic that drives many corporate mergers, where the goal is to gain operational efficiencies by eliminating redundant, back-office functions. So why for the love of Pete is the blueprint for ACA that each state should do its own thing?!
There is an answer, and it lies in politics and the misguided perception that conditions vary so widely from state to state that each state that will be much better able to serve its local peculiarities (see previous post for more on this notion). In a modern, connected, transient homogeneous country, this is hogwash.
I really wish some of the national press would start asking this question. The business press, in particular, should be all over it.
UPDATE: This King vs Burwell article from NYT hints at it.
Saturday, May 16, 2015
Sunday, May 10, 2015
Obviously the ideal solution involves a web-app to coordinate reasonable times. Reasonable here being defined as anytime during a given party's normal waking hours.
I found a number of websites that do this to an extent. This one seems as good as any. The 4-color scheme requires some mental math, but then I realized, instead of trying to track the three colors that represented waking time, I just needed to eliminate the 1 color (red) that represents sleeping time.
The enhancement I would like to see is personalization. Instead of default typical hours, I would like the ability for each of the participants to enter times that conform to their personal schedule.
For extra credit, there could be two tiers: preferred, and can-make-it-work. Results would be returned, in sort order, using a two-stage algorithm. First stage would maximize the number of participants who can attend. E.g., if a time slot meets 100% of can-work but 0% of preferred, it will make the cut, whereas 90% preferred and 0% can-work won't make the cut. Then within first cut, sorting would be a points system. Say 2 points for each preferred and 1 point for each can-work.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
I have always thought that opscan offers the best of both worlds. Fast, machine-based counting, but a very solid paper trail. Cheap, proven technology, too. And a big bonus, the machine isn't a real-time bottleneck.
After hearing an NPR story, today, I decided to take a few minutes to research it. Though my research is far from exhaustive, and may suffer slightly from unintentional "confirmation bias" in the search phrase formulation, the results seem to validate this. Here are a couple of links.
Saturday, February 14, 2015
So why not try to identify these people, and carefully select from them a few "poster child" individuals, who would sincerely and heartbreakingly explain how wrong they were to oppose reasonable gun control.
It seems like such an obvious tactic, but I have not seen it applied.
Exactly the same reasoning applies to the pro-vaccination argument.
Guns don't kill people, people with guns kill people.
Friday, January 02, 2015
This also makes a great, easy-to-keep New Year's Resolution.
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
I have a different idea...why does the oak flavoring have to come from the container itself? Couldn't they use stainless steel containers, and obtain the oak flavoring by inserting some charred oak staves? Advantages: 1) Get both sides of a given stave (plank) to contribute to the flavoring, so roughly half the board-feet to obtain the same amount of flavoring; 2) Much less skill/time/labor required--no Coopering, just charring; 3) Lower shipping costs.
UPDATE: As my friend Bill Heymann pointed out, NPR had a story a year ago about a company implementing this kind of thinking, except far more aggressively.
Monday, December 29, 2014
Still, NFC pay-by-phone does have an important advantage, specific to my personal use case. I keep my driver's license inside my phone case. That means I don't necessarily need to have my wallet with me, if I don't expect to be buying stuff. Most of the time, I bring it just in case. But if NFC payments became widely enough accepted, that might relieve me of the need to always carry my wallet. I would probably just keep it permanently in my car's glovebox.
My ideal would be for Google Wallet (and Apple Pay) to be integrated with Mint.com. Furthermore, I don't just want the transaction total, I want the transaction detail. I want the detail to be sent to my phone via NFC, and then uploaded to Mint.com. Sadly, I don't foresee this actually happening any time soon.
Good teachers learn early on to tell stories wherever possible — it’s a lot easier to remember "that time Professor Jones got $300 off on a plane ticket" than "certain goods have high elasticity of demand in the short run." We’re hard-wired to think in terms of other conscious actors, so it makes sense that anecdotes stick. The problem is that in the process of anthropomorphizing, or anecdotalizing, or allegorizing, we can impute agency where it isn’t due. When we teach kids that "electrons follow the path of least resistance" or "genes want to survive," when we insist that there’s a Mother Nature or Father Christmas, we occlude understanding.This is a terrific essay for the layperson. I love stories as much as the next person, but I believe the human "weakness" for stories is problematic for multiple reasons. Notably, important facts that don't have stories attached tend to get ignored. Conversely, simplified stories are fabricated to enhance facts, but the story becomes the entire mental model.
I also think we would do well to educate students about the very existence of cognitive biases, such as confirmation bias and agency bias.
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Sure, "good" movies are outnumbered and even more out-grossed by schlock. But its sort of like the criticism that the internet is 99% garbage--maybe it is, but that 1% of worth is plenty to fulfill the choosy consumer.
The trend, or at least me noticing it, started fall 2013. We went to see Argo in early fall, and I was stunned that probably 4-5 of 6 previews all looked really, really good. Others from that class included: Captain Phillips, Her, American Hustle, Nebraska, 12 Years A Slave, Dallas Buyers Club, The Grand Budapest Hotel.
This year is shaping up well, too. Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, Selma, Mr. Turner, Unbroken.
I still hate how 75% of the "good" movies are jammed into the Nov-Feb calendar slot. The summer is still mostly a wasteland. But then, living in MN, the last thing I want to do is spend the temperate months in a movie theater.
Saturday, December 13, 2014
For instance, I have lots of muscle memory for the CLEAR button top right on the notifications windowshade. But now it is at the bottom. And it doesn't say "CLEAR", it uses that weird "Dismiss" icon, that looks way too much like the stacked "hamburger" menu icon, except pushed sideways so it has the footprint of a parallelogram.
That alone would be bad, but the coup de grace is, if you have more than a screen's worth of notifications, you have to scroll down to get to the CLEAR icon. I think I get the logic behind that--you scroll down through all notifications, and then you are ready to CLEAR--but it still seems weird and less discoverable.
The bounciness of the windowshade, where if you keep scrolling down, until it bottoms out, and then causes the settings shortcuts to pull down, compressing the notifications, also is very weird and disorienting.
The rolodex-style recently-used app thumbnails from the multi-tasking button seems worse. You see a little more in the thumbnail, but I think you see fewer apps without scrolling, and scrolling is more disorienting than when every thumbnail had a fixed position.
These all seem like they would be super-cool things in a hobbyist ROM. Not the stock Android experience.
Saturday, December 06, 2014
Friday, November 21, 2014
Howard Gardner: "Among cognitive psychologists, there is widespread agreement that people learn best when they are actively engaged with a topic, have to actively problem solve, as we would put it 'construct meaning.' Yet, among individuals young and old, all over the world, there is a view that is incredibly difficult to dislodge. To wit: Education involves a transmission of knowledge/information from someone who is bigger and older (often called 'the sage on the stage') to someone who is shorter, younger, and lacks that knowledge/information. No matter how many constructivist examples and arguments are marshaled, this view — which I consider a misconception — bounces back. And it seems to be held equally by young and old, by individuals who succeeded in school as well as by individuals who failed miserably. Now this is not a scientific misconception in the sense of flat earth or six days of creation, but it is an example of a conception that is extraordinarily robust, even though almost no one who has studied cognition seriously believes it hold water. "
Saturday, November 08, 2014
First, it reinforces the idea, well-known in many quarters, that it is possible to be a superior stock-market trader. It particularly undercuts the idea of "technical analysis", something I have always doubted and dismissed.
Second, I've always thought this is one of the things that causes people to assign meaning to improbable but coincidental events in daily life. The hours and years of daily life offer so many different opportunities for patterns to emerge, everyone is bound to experience a few that seem remarkable, but are nevertheless entirely coincidental. (You may at this point call me unromantic or bloodless--I prefer the former, but I'll answer to either :) )
Third, although I'm not sure the article explicitly makes this point, it is yet another cautionary tale of the dangers of mixing correlation and causation. The most aesthetically pleasing way to discovery is to first formulate a theory, and then to prove it with data. Next best is to proceed from observational data, to formulate a well-constructed, internally-consistent theory that relies on well-known first principles. Less appealing is to find a correlation in data, and to construct a theory from it, using new principles that may amount to a post-hoc explanation, rather than time-tested principles. Worst of all is to take a statistical observation as law, without any underlying theory at all.
Friday, November 07, 2014
Saturday, November 01, 2014
Anyway, the proposition I wanted to evaluate: if one has SARS (Stock-Appreciation Rights) that are significantly above water, is there a benefit to exercising them early, for the sole purpose of ensuring all future gains are taxed as long-term capital gains (LTCG), at a rate of 15% + State? In MN, that would equate to about 22% in the typical case. As opposed to holding them as long as possible, in which case all gains will be taxed as ordinary income (OI), at a rate of 28% + State? Again, in MN that would be about 35%.
To cut to the chase, the answer is an emphatic no, do not sell prematurely for tax considerations!!!
This is what I thought going in. A general rule of investing is that tax considerations should take a back-seat to investment strategy (don't let the tax tail was the investment dog). The reason I had to work this out to convince myself, though, is because of the rate differential. I wanted to see if cashing out at some early point, and thereby subjecting all future returns to the much lower LTCG rate, would offset the benefit of deferring taxation as long as possible by holding to maturity.
I am fairly confident that cashing out early is not optimal, under any scenario, given my reasonable, simplifying assumptions. Those are:
- No market timing. Uniform rate of return for all years. Obviously this is not what happens real-world, but over a reasonable long time-horizon, it should be a good approximation.
- Early-exercise proceeds, net of taxes, are immediately reinvested in the same stock (with zero transaction costs).
(A copy of my model is available here.)
So in the scenario above, each row shows the NFV of the investment at 20 years, if it were subject to early exercise at the year denoted in the row. For example, if the initial grant of $10,000 were cashed in at the end of Year 4, and immediately reinvested in the same stock, the value after 20 years would be $3,756. Whereas if held to its 20-year "maturity", the value would be $14,346.
In hindsight, the explanation is blindingly obvious. Before you cash in, you have the entire $10,000 basis working for you. At the point you cash in, you only have whatever you have gained working for you. I think it is a bit analogous to killing the goose that lays the golden eggs, thinking you can invest all those unlaid eggs now, versus taking and investing the eggs as they come.
Concluding thought: The idea of attempting "market timing"--never a good idea--is wildly inadvisable in the case of SARS (and I think much the same analysis goes for stock options).