Sunday, July 12, 2020

Hoarding by Marquee Art Museums

In this recent episode of his terrific podcast, Revisionist History, Malcolm Gladwell starts to explore a topic that has always bothered me: the fact that marquee museums typically have vast storerooms of artifacts that are seldom, if ever, displayed. I don't want them to be sold to private collectors, but wouldn't everyone be so much better off if they were viewable in second and third-tier museums?

(I say "starts to explore", because that is the intro to the episode, but then it segues into an examination of hoarding behavior, the NY Met merely serving as an attention-grabbing example.)

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Orange Wine?!

Pretty interesting article on "orange wine". When I saw the headline I first thought it referred to a fruit wine. I am down on fruit "wine" of course. "Down on" as in fruit wine:real wine::margarine:butter. I.e., I would never buy or consume it, at any price, if I had the alternative of the real thing!

But orange seemed such an improbable fruit for fruit "wine", that I took a second look, and realized it was more like "Rose++".

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Frequent Password Reset Requirements

For a while, conventional wisdom was that making users change passwords frequently was an anti-pattern—encourages users to choose simple passwords. But with the risk of data being moved offline and brute-forced, has that changed? If the password is used on multiple sites, all it takes is for one careless site to have their encrypted passwords stolen, for offline cracking.

Of course, unique, complex, randomly-generated passwords from password managers such as 1Password are better still.

I went for PT recently and it was pretty helpful. Each week for 4 weeks they gave me additional exercise. They sent me home with printed diagrams like this (random link, not my actual exercises). Exercises seemed to help. What I wish they had also given me were links to each of the recommended exercises. Ideally, all compiled into a personal master URI for me, for my future reference if needed.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Ethical e-Commerce UI Never Tries to Trick the Consumer

I loathe apps and companies that use UI to trick me. Examples:

When transferring my Venmo balance to my bank, the app always presents the expedited option that carries a 1% fee. This is a terrible deal, and unless you absolutely have to have the money quickly, nobody should use it. But Venmo presents it first, in a way that makes it look like it is the standard. More than once I have almost chosen it by accident.

What would an ethical approach be? Bare minimum, make the no-fee and fee approaches at least equal in the UI, so the user isn't tricked into choosing the one that is almost surely a bad deal. Better yet, create a setting where the user can set the no-fee option as their default, so they don't have the UI friction of making a choice between a good deal and a terrible deal.

LinkedIn is a huge offender. They do this horrible bait-and-switch thing with invitations. After executing on their periodic prompt for connect with people you might know (annoying, but to be expected with any form of social media), almost instantaneously, the UI automatically populates the screen with all the contacts that you just deliberately un-checked! It happened so fast, it was hard to notice. In fact, if you weren't paying close attention, you might think the first SEND INVITATIONS did not work, so you would re-click. They have been doing this for over a decade.

One of the pleasures of doing business with Amazon is that I find it never nudges me in a direction contrary to my best interests. Even when they offer shipping options that would be cheaper to them than honoring my Prime membership, they default correctly, to Prime, and merely give me the option to select the alternative shipping methods.

Full Size Range Hood Should Be Construction Code

The benefits of having a good kitchen exhaust fan is under-rated. Especially desirable when you burn something so much it smokes, or when cooking something extra pungent or messy. But day-in, day-out, they are good to use when doing any amount of stovetop work that involves oil. Get the aerosolized oil droplets out of your house, instead of letting them disperse and much things up.

The worse situation, of course, is to have an un-ducted fan. That does basically nothing but make noise for the placebo effect. But I think a microwave is a poor substitute for a full-size range hood. Unfortunately, it seems like over-the-stove microwaves have replaced range hoods in most kitchens these days. Ours included. I think replacing the microwave with a good hood would be pricey, and then also we have a space-inefficient kitchen layout, so counter space is somewhat limited, and so no good home for a countertop microwave.

If we ever move again...

My Mint Transaction Review Process

I've been using for a few years now. I imagine I am a typical, lightweight user--I don't try to categorize things, I just use it to pull all my transactions into one journal, that I can review weekly (especially important for couples who share accounts).

For a while, I reviewed them directly in Mint, and that works okay, but its interface is not exactly snappy. I eventually hit on the idea of exporting them all to Excel (effortless, built-in, just scroll to the bottom of the transactions window for the "Export All" option). That has worked much better.

In Excel, I have all the responsiveness, power and speed of that very familiar application. Search, filter, it's all there. I review transactions, flag things that my wife needs to review, or that I may need to follow up on (e.g., Reimbursable), make an occasional note. Takes maybe 20 minutes per week, total.

There are little glitches, that mostly don't bother me, but would get in the way if you were trying to do true accounting. The main thing is that some transactions appear to be repeated, but aren't. I think this must have something to do with the timing of the credit card clearing process. 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Retirees Should Still Have a Heavy Stock Allocation

I've seen a few articles like this recently: Retiring Into a Shaky Market? Think Long Term Anyway

I am always 100% equities with retirement savings, and always envisioned to continue to be heavily allocated in stocks through retirement.

The one thing that troubles me a little is really bad timing. Market goes down 40% the very year you retire. So this article makes two points that seem like good tweaks.

I like the buffer asset idea. Carve out a relatively small amount of your portfolio in cash. Then as the advisor says:
A really simple rule that I found works quite well and does just as well as more complicated rules, is that you just look at your portfolio balance on the date you retired. Whenever the current balance is less than that number, draw from the buffer asset. Otherwise, you withdraw from your portfolio. This is simple and works well.
I wish they would have given some guidance about how big the buffer should be. I'm going to say, enough to fund 2 leaner-than-ideal years.

I also like this idea:
Some retirement experts have found that an even more conservative mixture at retirement may be ideal. What they suggest next is counterintuitive, but underscores the long game that is the stock market: Instead of maintaining that lower allocation to stocks, they suggest you gradually increase it as you age.
So one thing that could imply is, starting to convert your buffer steadily to equities after, say, 5 years.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Coronavirus: Help Flatten the Curve by Deliberate Early Exposure?

The importance of "flattening the curve" of Covid19 seems to be sinking in, with "social distancing" being the single most important means. Nothing to argue with there. But I have an idea for another, complementary public health measure: what about selective, deliberate early exposure? (NOTE: This assumes that once you get it, you are immune for a while--I think that is a solid assumption.)

Why not expose voluntary cohorts of people to the disease, much sooner rather than later? And then put them in quarantine together (in a motel or whatever).

From a societal/public health standpoint, this would help flatten the curve. But why would people volunteer? I think there are a number of benefits (beyond knowing you are making a contribution to the greater good):
  • Early exposure guarantees sufficient resources for your treatment. Versus getting it at peak, and maybe the hospital is full, or out of respirators.
  • Choosing your time and place of quarantine ensures you aren't stuck on a cruise ship for weeks.
  • Similarly, since the entire cohort would be infected together, the duration of the quarantine would be a predictable 2 weeks. Versus the cruise ship scenario, where every time a new case pops up, it would reset the clock.
  • By getting it over with, you no longer have to endure weeks or months of social distancing--you are free to go about your business.
  • You would have company in quarantine--the rest of your cohort.
  • And of course you would know you are making a major, pro-social contribution by volunteering to be exposed. Ideally, maybe this could earn credits for those near and dear to you who are at high risk--should rationing be required.
I think it would be super-beneficial to do this with healthcare workers. Because that famous curve-flattening graphic? The one that shows the Healthcare system capacity as a fixed, steady-state horizontal line? Well guess what? If healthcare workers are infected, that line plunges downwards.

There would also be a big scientific/clinical dividend. Early data on the disease progression. If done really carefully, it might be possible, to some degree, to group the cohorts in statistically useful ways (vs random) to provide even better data.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Compromise for Blog-Length Tweets

Twitter is famously minimalist for tweet length. For over a decade, they rigidly stuck to 128 characters. I found that to be way too short, most tweets required severe editing to fit. Longer tweets used the ugly hack of screenshotting the text. Among the many drawbacks to this approach is that it is usually impossible to read on a phone. I almost never bother.

The expansion to 256 characters significantly eased the pain . But there are still a lot of screenshots out there. Also, I detest reading long tweet chains. I have an idea for a compromise:

  • The Twitter client should allow you to create an arbitrarily long post (>>256 characters).
  • The Tweet body should consist of the first 128-256 characters.
  • The remainder of the tweet content will be automagically turned into a post (sort of like Tumblr).
  • The tweet will end with a more link that provides the rest of the post.
  • The author can either explicitly specify the break point, otherwise it will be algorithm-based (e.g., nearest complete sentence to 256 characters).
Technically it seems very reasonable. Not sure from a business model point of view. I don't see anything obviously bad about it. In pursuit of ad-based monetization, the Twitter client could do annoying things like throw an ad up when you click to more link. It might have a pretty good payoff--anyone clicking the more link is obviously a motivated reader.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Free Shipping Social Costs Analysis

I've come across quite a few articles that point out downsides of "free shipping", here is a recent one. One downside is environmental impact--free shipping leads to less efficient ordering (smaller quantities, not bothering to bundle shipments). Free expedited shipping makes this even worse.

Another downside is that it contributes to winner-take-all economics. Amazon can do free shipping much more efficiently than a small eTailer.

IMO, part of the reason "free shipping" has become such a draw lies in the alternative, especially as practiced in the earlier days of eCommerce. Problem #1 is eTailers using shipping as a profit center. So advertising low prices, but then doubling the real shipping cost (in the pre-internet days, this was often referred to as "shipping & handling").

Problem #2 is just the mental model of not knowing how much shipping will cost. It is very tedious and frustrating eCommerce experience to select and configure a few items, perhaps go through a few screens of checkout, only to have the website calculate the shipping at the last minute and see that it will be 40% of your purchase price, causing you to abandon.

So the first problem is a business-model problem. No sympathy on that. Give me straightforward pricing every time, spare me loss-leaders, coupons and cross-subsidies.

The second problem is where Amazon probably has a really huge advantage. The easy solution to post net prices that include shipping, and also factor these into search (show net cost, shipping included). This is what Amazon typically does.

Amazon makes it look effortless, but I imagine there are major complications. First, you have to know the destination address, so it helps if the shopper is already logged in--advantage Amazon. Second are the algorithms. E.g., how much you get charged for shipping would typically include how many other items you purchase. I imagine Amazon uses algorithms to come up with a single, flat number. Sometimes too high (multiple items same shipment), sometimes too low (multiple single items). But it all evens out. That would be very challenging for any small eTalier to implement.

Hopefully over time, enabling platforms, such as Shopify, will emerge to help equalize some of these things. But it may be a very long journey, particularly for specialty eTailers. I.e., the pattern for one specialized product may be very different than another specialized product or a more general-purpose eTailer. It could take a very long time for Shopify, et. al., to get enough data to make correlations.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

24-Second-Rule-Like Feature for Words with Friends

The Scrabble-like games, when played by experienced, highly competitive players, often devolve into trench warfare at the end of the game. Neither player wants to play anything besides the most trivial 1-2 letter words, for fear of opening up the board to a lethal end-strike.

While that style of play has its charms, it can become a bit dull. I have an idea to fix it. If you play a word that is less than 50% of the maximum points you could earn, you pay a 1/3 penalty on the difference. So for instance, if you could play EXIST for 48 points, but you choose to play only EX for 18 points, then you get a 10-point penalty.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Ideas to Tweak the Power of Executive Clemency

The governor of Kentucky recently granted some questionable scandalous pardons. I haven't thought or studied much on the general subject of executive clemency. But it seems like the spirit of that  power could be upheld while introducing some moderate checks-and-balances, to avoid misuse of power and outright corruption.

The most basic idea is that some modest, minority support in the legislature would be required to sustain the pardon, where a pardon is challenged. If there is no challenge to a pardon, it is effected.

So imagine for instance that a legislator challenges the pardon for child rapist Micah Schoettle. That would be put to a vote, and at least 20% of Kentucky representatives would have to affirm the pardon.

So the barrier of affirmation is still very low, low enough that party-line votes wouldn't be sufficient to overturn the executive clemency decision. But high enough that a meaningful number of legislators would have to be willing to go on record as sustaining a given pardon. (There is no science behind my opening bid of 20%, it just seems like a reasonable number to accomplish those objectives).

Sunday, December 01, 2019

I Hate Powerpoint

I'm not a big fan of Powerpoint. Obviously it has its place, which is visual speaker aids for presentations, and perhaps highly visual topics (although it is a terrible drawing tool, IMO). But in corporate life, at least where I work, a "deck" has become a substitute for a written memo.

I think this is bad and wrong for multiple reasons. Nobody expects to read a Powerpoint, so text within a deck must, by convention, be much abbreviated. As a writing tool, Powerpoint is inferior and inconvenient. Of course, that also contributes to excess brevity and glossing over the details.

Why do people use Powerpoint this way, and what can be done about it? I believe one reason Powerpoint is attractive is that fixed pages, vs scrolling content, serve to anchor the reader. Given that even a deep, multi-page corporate memo is not going to be a novel, I think that is fine. But there is an easy solution: create page breaks. I think if Word did more to encourage a page-oriented writing style, including Powerpoint-style display only one page at a time, it would help.

Then again, there are other reasons that will be difficult to overcome. One is that many corporate authors probably view Powerpoint's brevity as a benefit. Either because they aren't good at real writing, or because they want to leverage its built-in potential for brevity to elide difficult or inconvenient details. Then of course there is sheer habit--if management expects analyses to be delivered via Powerpoint, it is hard to buck the trend. Especially if doing so subjects the recipient to the need for deep reading.

I take consolation in the fact that one of the very biggest, most successful and innovative organizations in the world bans it.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Idea to Keep Drawers from Getting Jammed by Contents

I hate it when drawers get jammed and won't open because some long object, such as a knife, gets tipped up and jams up against the facia as you try to pull the drawer open. It seems like this is a solvable problem, for a society that has the will to do so. Below is my quick idea for how:

A tapered piece of springy plastic is attached to the top of the drawer opening. to push down tipping up utensils, and when not fully successful in pushing them down, to ease them past the opening.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

"State Fair Pricing"--Legit or BS?

The state fair is a very big deal in Minnesota, and one of its many facets is certain types of business having an on-site presence and heavily promoting a "State Fair Price". Does anyone thing this is truly a legit best-anytime discount? Or just another run-of-the-mill discount, leveraging the once-a-year event to create a false sense of urgency?

I strongly believe the latter. My consumer philosophy, for big-ticket, highly negotiable purchases where the consumer is offered discounts as part of the sales pitch, without even asking--whatever price you are being offered as "today only" can be got tomorrow, or next week, too. The harder the sales person pushes, the more true this is.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Airbnb Can Be Great, Except When It's Awful

This article is a good heads-up on possible Airbnb scams by hosts. I think the moral of the story is: don't accept any swap, especially last minute, without viewing the substitute premises first.

I had my own bad Airbnb experience. I reserved an Airbnb in London in summer peak season. The host canceled at the last minute. No way could I find comparable lodgings for my party of 5 for any reasonable price. I have no idea why they canceled, though I suspect it may have been because they realized they could charge more.

So although I don't think it was a scam in my case, I feel like the same, simple remedy would work for both of our cases. Namely, the cancellation policies should be reciprocal. If I had canceled with 48 hours notice, I would have received no refund. Why shouldn't the same rules apply to the host???

Thursday, October 24, 2019

The UC Davis Experience for Cheese?

The team’s findings could lead to the development of new kinds of cheese in the United States. Dr. Wolfe has been approached by American cheesemakers who want to know if his team could collect wild blue fungi in their local cheese caves and transform them into edible molds, creating new regional varieties of cheese.
Just as UC Davis ushered in the scientific era for viticulture and oenology, maybe this will be the beginning of the same for cheese.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Hard Part of Things

Losing weight is not the hard part, keeping it off is.
Getting to the top of Everest is not the hard part, getting down alive is.
Encryption is not hard, key management is.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Dockless e-Bikes Are A Wonderful Convergence of Technologies

I had the chance to use dockless e-Bikes during a visit to Seattle in June. They fully lived up to expectations. They were plentiful, easy to use, and powerful. 20 mph uphill with modest effort is a lovely way to get around. Especially if the city is bike-friendly, which Seattle generally is.

The whole dockless e-Bike experience is a wonderful convergence of technologies. Foremost, of course, the e-Bike itself. Then there is the Smartphone app to locate and effortlessly rent them (although they were so thick in central Seattle, you could often just stroll and find them within 2 minutes).

A challenge in bike-commuting in an unfamiliar city is finding a good, bike-friendly route. Google Maps makes short work of that--it quickly got me into a bike lane, and kept me on bike-friendly streets for the duration of my trip.

The only problem with relying on Google Maps whilst biking is being able to hear. Which is where the last piece of technology comes in. Nice wireless earbuds are easy to carry at all times, and a single bud in the right ear allows you to hear navigation instructions well, while keeping the left ear free to hear the sounds of the street.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Micro USB Will Be The New Floppy Drive

I.e., the old hardware standard that never disappears, only slowly fades away.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Podcast Listening Tips

Short Version

  • Use Overcast if you have iPhone.
  • Speed up the playback. You both get through more content, and faster is actually better for holding your attention.
  • Try wireless earbuds--Airpods are most well-known, there are good budget alternatives. One of many benefits is ease of single-ear listening, which for spoken audio, is usually what you want.
  • Pro tip: if you use a Read Later app, such as Pocket, you can use the built in TTS (synthesized voice reads out loud) in all the same situations you listen to podcasts.

Longer Version

A bit of advice for those who haven't yet gotten into podcasts. There are so many. Any specialized subject, you will find a podcast on it. Podcasts especially have a "long tail' effect:

  • There are well-known, highly produced podcasts, often some kind of brand extension from existing media source (NPR, the extensive Ira Glass storyteller tree, Freakonomics and Malcolm Gladwell).
  • There are middle-market podcasts beg enough to attract sponsors, but still pretty niche.
  • Then there are many small Indie podcasts that are homebrew affairs, probably without sponsorships. Something for everyone.

There are many good podcast apps, but if you are on iOS, don't settle for the built-in Apple app, download the Overcast podcast app. It is definitely the best one for iOS. For Android, Podcast Addict and Podcast Republic are a couple of good ones that I am familiar with.

Start listening at 1.2X speed. You will get used to that quickly, and can keep increasing the speed. I listen at 1.5X.

Bonus tip: consider getting earbuds. Like the Apple Airpods, or Wirectutter’s budget choice for a mere $40 (I got them for my wife, they seem good).

The best ways to find podcasts are:

  • Referrals from friends.
  • Search the internet for topics of interest.
  • One podcast leads to another.

Don't rely on iTunes recommended list, and don't try to do general searching from the podcast app--only do that to actually add a specific podcast you have identified from a different source.

Washing dishes, cutting the lawn, doing laundry and of course, driving, will never be boring again!! I get I listen to 2+ hours per day on average (more on weekends).

Pro tip: if you use a Read Later app, such as Pocket, you can use the built in TTS (synthesized voice reads out loud) in all the same situations you listen to podcasts. They synthesized voice is obviously not as good as a real narrator/speaker/reader, but it is surprisingly tolerable.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Screens hots not allowed should not be a feature

The Android Mint app does not allow me to take screenshots. I do not think any app should have the ultimate authority to tell me what I can do with my device. I think I understand the logic, which is to protect the user (or maybe a rogue app) from screenshotting sensitive info. So maybe a consent dialog would be appropriate. But at the end of the day, if I want a screenshot of whatever my device is displaying, that should be my decision.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette - Movie Comments (MILD SPOILERS)

NOTE: Comments below are about the movie. I know there is also a novel. I am very curious to learn to what degree the novel does or does not suffer from these plot problems.

The end ruined it. Wild improbability piled upon wild improbability. The overall plot and theme could have been achieved without such insipid false drama.

Movies get 1-2 suspensions of disbelief. #1 was that she fell for the personal assistant service scam. That was fine--a small stretch, but plausible, especially for an "out there" person like her, and it was a brilliant plot device that plays into topical concerns about privacy and online scams. Suspension #2  was the idea that she could stage a comeback and design the next-gen South Pole station. That's a huge stretch--comeback alone would be big, but designing a polar station when she has no bona fides is really out there. That's okay--that is the one huge thing that makes it a compelling story and entertaining movie. But everything else should be plausible, in service of the bets already placed on incredible things.

For instance, if her family had tried to meet up with her in Antarctica but failed, I think it would have achieved the same ultimate emotional and plot effect. It would have shown they cared about her and literally would have gone to the ends of the earth to help her. Likewise the attempt to stow away and get to the pole. Much more reasonable if she had tried (that's wild enough) and failed, but in failing, attracted just enough attention for her bid to be considered for the  architectural "commission" to be taken seriously.


  • Cate Blanchette's performance is great.
  • The Micro$oft employee husband was really well-calibrated, very human and not at all a tech/geek caricature.

Other Complaints

  • There is NO WAY that a mother-daughter relationship so enmeshed would: A) be a strong, healthy relationship; B) result in such a likeable, self-aware 15-year old.
  • The idea that Bernadette could, on the basis of one abortive family intervention, very quickly chart a clear path to fixing herself. It would have been much better if they worked in some mental health counseling between the breakdown and recovery.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Criticisms of Le Carre's "The Night Manager"

I love John le Carre, and enjoyed The Night Manager. However, I did not love it as much as almost all his prior books, because it seemed so implausible. WAYYYYY to many low-percentage things are banked on; my quick inventory:
  • The fake kidnapping won't result in an innocent being killed.
  • A slimebag like Thomas taking so much risk to save a random child is a big stretch.
  • Roper will take the bait on Apostoll's bad-mouthing of Corkoran, and choose to replace him with Thomas.
  • The crucial info they got was because Thomas went rogue (snooped in Roper's study, when his handlers expressly told him not to). What was likelihood they would have obtained such compelling intel, had Thomas not taken that risk?
  • The ensuing scene with Jed, where he bets everything on her goodwill, is a huge stretch.
  • That whole priest signing the photo that got him the passport was totally unforseeable? Was that just a bonus?
That is all bad enough. But one thing I really appreciated about le Carre is the "anti-James Bond" approach. Very little physical drama, and none of it involving the protagonist exhibiting physical prowess (more likely, the protagonist is knocked unconscious).

But Jonathan is quite Bond-like, a near-superhero. He is great at sailing, tennis (though that didn't figure in the story), mountain climbing (figured slightly), cooking. And despite only being an enlisted man (I think that is right?), he cultivates the refined manners manners to make a first-rate manager at 3-star hotels. And he is a top-notch streetfighter. And a ladykiller. And able to shrug off tortute.

I still enjoyed the book, but would have enjoyed it more if it had not gone all Bond.

Uber for Parking Spots

I believe there are a lot of private parking spots in cities that are grossly under-utilized. Offices and stores that are closed evenings, when big events are happening. Churches that don't have much going on weekdays. General excess capacity. Seems like it crying out for an Uber of Parking Spaces.

An obvious challenge would be policing usage. How can the private version of a "meter maid" quickly visually ascertain that a given car has paid for their spot? I think the key is for all spaces to be numbered. So the enforcement game shifts from checking the car, to checking the space.

I did a quick search to see if there are startups exploring this space. I found a couple of hits on "Uber for Parking", but nothing that matched my idea. One was on-demand valet parking. Pretty much DOA, due both to its labor intensitivity, and the fact that it does not leverage "sharing economy" principles. It mostly just offered valets to park your car in the same commercial spaces already available to the general public--it did not lead to greater efficiency by utilizing wasted, empty spaces.

This effort, on the other hand, is too old-economy contractual. It seems to want you to sign over your empty space for a month at a time, as opposed to using excess capacity day-by-day.

So my working conclusion is that this could be both a significant business opportunity, and perhaps an overall social gain--less total space in the city required for parking spaces, due to more intensive utilization.

(That is the static analysis, anyway, Perhaps more available, cheaper parking would lead to more driving, which is definitely not a social gain, in my book!)

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Hidden Benefit of eBooks

I like not knowing how close I am to the end of the book. With an eBook, unlike a physical book, it is easy to avoid knowing.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Dockless eBikes, Wow!

I spent half a week in Seattle in June, and had my first exposure to dockless eBikes. Total game-changer!

They were very dense, never hard to find one nearby. We had a party of three, 1.5 miles out from downtown, so we had to hunt a bit to find 3 bikes nearby, but still it was easy.

The bike itself is as-advertised. Speeds up to 20mph, going uphill at a good clip is effortless. The electronic assist was smooth and responsive, no skill required.

The whole eBike experience is a showcase for modern tech. Phone to find the bike, and unlock it. Google Maps to effortlessly find a bike-friendly route in a busy, unfamiliar city. Wireless earbud to be able to hear the navigation instructions. Worked great, Maps had me on nice bike lanes very quickly. Would have been so much harder if I had to try to plot my own bike-friendly route in the big city.

Only issue was price: not cheap. It varies a bit, but typically $2 to unlock, and $0.25 per minute. So for our party of 3, there were cases where Lyft/Uber was actually cheaper. I hope that will come down. I can see a minimum of $2-$3, but having that as a fixed cost along with a not-trivial per-minute charge is a bit stiff. Hopefully subscriptions and volume discounts.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

YouTube TV Analysis

We dropped DirecTV a few months ago, in favor of YouTube TV. Monthly bill cut in half, from $90 to $45. Not looking back. This is the real deal for many would-be cord-cutters.


  • Fast Forward and Rewind much less accurate and responsive (but see PROs below).
  • A few channels I don't care about (HGTV, Discover) not included.


  • Half the cost.
  • Use of Google Voice for Fast Forward and Rewind--in many cases, better than the highly responsive DirecTv controls, because I can say "Fast Forward 3minutes 40seconds, and that is executed within maybe 10s".
  • Cloud DVR is incredible. No limits.
  • Search is so much better than the clunky DirecTv interface.
  • Eliminates a lot of input switching. Mostly we are using either Netflix or YouTube TV, both via Chromecast.
  • No satellites on your roof, nor cables on the outside of your house.
  • Highly shareable.
  • Can watch your content anywhere, anytime.
  • No marketing calls.

Pro Sports Unions Should Aggressively Protect Members Financially

Sad story that superstar running back Adrian Peterson is broke. I think pro sports unions should be as aggressive as possible in protecting their members financially. Which generally means protecting them from themselves. Negotiate for something like 15% salary matching in an approved, low-expense, diversified fund that can only pay an annuity, no touching the principal until age 65.

I don't claim the 15% will be extra money to the athletes. It would effectively come as a reduction in salary. But for newly-wealthy pro athletes, it is money that will never be missed, and will hopefully save them from future penury.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Camera Apps Should Distinguish the Chaff from the Wheat

I take a lot of “utility” photos on my phone. Screenshots, grocery lists, broken stuff I need to find a solution for at the hardware store, documents I might want to refer to the next day, pictures of serial numbers too small to read.

I don’t want these polluting my photo library. I want options to frictionlessly classify a photo as “junk” (disposable) at the time it is taken, and have it go directly to a special category within Google Photos (or, ideally, any other photo app supporting the standard tagging API for Android or iOS). Much like the way Social and Promotional categories work in Gmail.

I think there are a few, complementary ways this could be implemented:

1.      A different camera icon/widget on the home screen.

2.      2 different shutter buttons on the camera app itself.

3.      Classification buttons when viewing the image, via floating clickable labels.

All could be useful, to me, #2 seems by far the most valuable.

(Whether disposable photos are auto-deleted within a few days, or saved indefinitely, should be configurable. As, for that matter, should be whether it synchs to the cloud from the device’s camera roll.)

Monday, July 22, 2019

Tweak for Basketball 3-Pointers

I am pretty happy with the modern NBA. But I am sympathetic to the idea that 3-point madness has gone just a bit too far. I can think of a simple tweak--reduce the point value to something like 2.7.

The most obvious downside I can see is that this would drastically reduce the likelihood of ties. That problem can be solved: a team has to win by a certain amount. I'm not sure what the right number would be, maybe 0.5.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

How Prince Worked His Magic On The Bangles' 'Manic Monday'

I always liked the song "Manic Monday" by the Bangles, but I never understood why. On the surface, it seemed like your typical late-1980s overplayed, one-hit-wonder pop pablum. But for whatever reason, it struck me as a perfect, fun, likable pop song (maybe it helped that its subject wasn't the done-to-death trio of Love, Loss and Longing).

I hadn't thought of it in years, but then I heard this NPR story, which explained that Prince wrote it for them. Made me feel much better about liking it.

Mobile Trashcan Washing and Tire Air Pressure

This mobile trash bin washing service s a business idea I had a while ago--a purpose-designed truck to come around and clean gross trash bins. Price is just a bit too high for my tastes, but hopefully either they will gain economies of scale, and/or attract competition. I think I would be happy to pay $15 for a one-time cleaning, or maybe $30 for 2x annual subscription. Their one-time price of $44 is way too much, and their minimum is $60 for quarterly--twice my threshold.

A bonus idea I have is to combine this with other household chores that are pretty easy for a professional, but tedious for the homeowner. The best example that comes to mind is tire air pressure. The challenge there is that it would require the car to be available in the driveway on the trash day--doesn't work for most people.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

I was unimpressed by my first visit to Aldi. Seems like Walmart prices, with less selection. But I have to be honest, I didn't give them a thorough vetting, because I was immediately put off by the need to produce a quarter as a deposit on a shopping cart (I remember when that experiment came in, and I am pretty sure I haven't seen it in over 20 years; I get the logic, but in this day and age, now that MSP street parking is digital, the chances of me having a quarter on me are zip.).

I ran across this interesting article. The headline grabbed my eye--"brutally efficient" is clickbait for me. I was amused that it led with the quarter thing. But as a sworn enemy of overpriced, branded consumer packaged goods, this is what makes me feel like I should give Aldi another chance:
Bargain hunters across the income ladder end up feeling like they’re outsmarting other, higher-priced supermarkets and big brands when they see their grocery receipts. Aiming to be the "smart shopping alternative,” Aldi wants to "spread the message that traditional grocers and brands simply rip off consumers,” she said.
Music to my ears. Also, maybe the long-anticipated nationwide consolidation of grocery outlets is beginning.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Commercial Push Notifications Are the New Marketing Email

I installed the new Sam's Club Scan & Go app on my phone. It is invaluable--you check yourself out. So what does Sam's treat me to? This inane push notification. Like I don't know I can buy potential Memorial Day party supplies at Sam's. They would be so much better off holding their fire for something that might actually be useful. Even if that means they never push anything at me. Or maybe something 1-2 times per year, telling me how much I have saved via their lower prices. Or an occasional, general-purpose coupon.

Because there is a beautifully simple, zero-tolerance response to these kind of dumb-assery:

Highlighting and Annotating on the Web: Business Opportunity for Medium

I read a lot, and I am a big fan of highlighting. For years I have thought good highlighting/annotating of web docs needs to be much easier. I have dabbled with various extensions. They are okay, but still kind of high friction, especially when it comes to sharing--my primary reason for highlighting. At work, I often resort to pasting into a Word doc and using Track Changes.

I would really like this to be a W3C standard and built into browsers (no I don't have all the technical details). But in the absence of that, it seems like a decent incremental opportunity for Medium. (I'm not a big fan of unnecessarily centralized blogging, but just saying...)

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Jargonwatch: Double-Click

Business term, meaning to delve further into a subject. Seems to be supplanting drill-down.

Double-click is a computer input action. The odd thing is, double-clicking has been deprecated by most IT useability gurus for a decade or more. So odd that it is suddenly cropping up in this sense.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Two-Party System, Isn't

It's amazing how ingrained is the idea of the "two-party system"in the American consciousness. But unless I am very mistaken, it is not a two-party system, it is a two-party happenstance that has ossified into an utterly dysfunctional status quo.

I think it is generally accepted that our founders--worshiped for their acumen and foresight, often with considerable reason--were not generally favorable disposed toward political parties. The system they bequeathed us was not oriented toward parties, and certainly not enshrining a sclerotic, potentially un-reformable diad of Republicans and Democrats.

So as a first step towards reform, how about if we understand and acknowledge that the two-party system is an accident, not a system.

First Smart Elevator Experience

I spent the first 12 years of my career at Otis Elevator. It wasn't the best fit, but things you do early in life inevitably leave an impression. So I am always mildly interested in elevators vertical transportation technology.

Last week I had my first encounter with "smart elevators". Something that was talked about at the time I joined the Old Elevator Company (c. 1987), but seemed very futuristic back then. In the ensuing years, I knew they had become a reality, but being a creature of the suburbs, I rarely encounter any kind of elevator; and smart elevators are only going to be relevant in a >7 floor building with a bank of 4+ 'vators.

So it was interesting and gratifying to see them in action. There are no buttons inside the car--you make your choice of destination floor while standing in the hallway. The people I was visiting said that when they get in a normal elevator, they are prone to step in and do nothing, forgetting that they need to register their floor destination from inside the cab.

Definitely major progress.

Feature Idea for Spoiler Prevention

As a major time-shifter, I hate spoilers. Better spoiler protection is WAY overdue. I would like to see
all social media apps include anti-spoiler-walls in their editors. E.g., "click REVEAL to reveal spoiler text". Same goes for professional publications--newspaper websites are often the worst offenders.

Forward-THinking Municpal Minibus Uber

Uber doesn't cut down car usage, it cuts down mass transit usage. So while in some ways I can't wait to see the advent of autonomous vehicles, another part of me dreads it, knowing anything that drives down the cost--in depreciation and driver time--of individual transportation will only make the problem worse.

I feel like a good solution would be a municipally-operated minibus version of Uber. Proper taxing of carbon and transport infrastructure would also help. Maybe HOV-style public-only lanes as well.

Yelp $$ Scale Needs Work

I've been quite happy with my Yelp experience over the 8 or so years I have been using it. I am not a super-heavy Yelper, but I use it steadily, mostly when looking for restaurants while traveling. I honestly can never remember being disappointed, and often have found real, out-of-the-way gems.

But one area that Yelp has been weak in, with zero improvement, is the $ cost ratings. Yelp assigns 1-4 $igns to give an indication of a restaurant's cost. Very important information, obviously. Problem is, the way the scale is used in practice throws away most of the bandwidth. One $ is fast-food-level. Two $$ covers everything a competent but unremarkable family diner, up to a pretty good, independent restaurant. That is easily a factor of 2X--entrees from $10 to over $20. Three $$$ is somewhere many would consider a one-every-5-years splurge, and $$$$ is "take out a bank loan".

So most of the time, I am in the $$ range, and the range is too broad for my liking.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

I get that AirPods are great

But the newfound discovery of the freedom of wirelessness is hardly new. I've been using Bluetooth headphones for over a decade. I assumed they would catch on really fast, especially among younger people. So I have been surprised, over the years, how willing people are to tolerate tangly, wired headphones.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Feature Idea; QR to Capture Beloved TV Screensaver Photos

10 years ago, a smart photo frame, powered by an SD card, was considered cutting edge. Too much maintenance to become common, but the idea was right. At the time, I blogged about my ideas for turning a family room big-screen TV into a nice screensaver.

Fast-forward a decade, and that capability is in place. For some reason it is not as popular as I would have imagined, but let's set that aside.

I love having my large family room TV display both personal and other photos. There are a few features I wish it had. Tops on that list is the ability to share photos that viewers like.

So my feature idea is that every photo should have a QR code, and any person in the room admiring the photo currently being displayed could scan that QR, to get the photo on their own device/account. 

Saturday, January 19, 2019

On the Folly of Brexit, and the Undesirability of Referendums

I'm not a big fan of referendums. There are lots of reasons, but even in an ideal situation, most issues are too complicated and contingent to be reasonably turned into a ballot measure. Only really simple, clear-cut and most crucially, revocable topics seem remotely suitable. Examples:
Should we pass a bond to fund the new high school?
Should the drinking age be lowered to 19?
So Brexit was a poor proposition for a referendum. Certainly because it is complicated, but most of all because it is highly contingent, and not readily revocable, if conditions or sentiments change in the future.

Once a referendum is held, there is a general feeling that the people have spoken, so there is no opportunity to reconsider. That is the case with Brexit. However, given the inability of the ruling party to pass its proposal, I think there is a solid case for a do-over.

Promises were made by the Brexit supporters that there would be little harm, and many benefits, to leaving. They are utterly unable to deliver on that. The current agreement is hated most by the pro-Brexit crowd, because for various complicated reasons, many of the constraints (real or symbolic) of EU membership remain, while major benefits are lost. So it can't pass Parliament. But if the UK "crashes out" with no treaty, then all but the most denialist agree that major harm will occur. So given the current impasse, the promises underlying the Brexit referendum have been broken, and the referendum should be considered null and void.

Adding to the case is the fact that the pro-Brexit crowd didn't have the fortitude to put forth one of their own to lead the government in executing Brexit. That task fell to Theresa May, who was anti-Brexit. (You wouldn't know it by her rhetoric since then, and I think that is a failing, but that's another story.)

And if there is a new referendum, be smarter about the wording. The original question was phrased "Remain a member of the European Union / Leave the European Union". As this article points out, wording matters a lot. In hindsight, better wording for the original would have been: "Remain a member of the European Union / Negotiate and ratify a treaty for leaving the European Union". 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Design Flaw: Clogs in Dishwasher Spray Arms

The job of a dishwasher is to wash one's dishes. Extensive Any pre-rinsing should not be required. The dishwasher manuals even state this.

And it's mostly true--modern dishwashers do a great job of getting the dishes clean, even if there is layer of spaghetti sauce or whatever on them. The spray arms have these teeny little holes, to produce a high-pressure spray. Combine that low-volume but high-pressure spray with extended time and high humidity, and it works wonders.

Problem is those tiny holes. They are prone to clogging. I can't think of any good way to prevent that. So my complaint is not the clogging itself. My complain is how difficult it is to un-clog them.

Sure, you can ream them, as this video explains. But all too often, that just drops the clogging particle back into the body of the spray arm, where it will lurk, waiting to be pushed back into the orifice the next time a cycle is run. This typically lasts ~10 cycles, until the particle has been sufficiently eroded as to no longer block the orifice.

The MVP solution, IMO, is for the arm to be disassemble-able. I want to be able to open up the arm, to access the interior, so I can flush out the offending particle. Ironically, my very first, builder's-grade dishwasher had this feature. None of the 4 higher-end ones since then, including a very highly rated Bosch model, has.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Fat-Burning Heart-Rate Zone

Nice to see this article explain how the "fat-burning zone" is utterly misconstrued and generally bs. When it comes to diet or exercise, I've always been a believer in calories-in, calories-out.

And as a lifelong, daily exerciser, I've always thought the heart rate obsessions was a silly, fiddly distraction, unless you are a semi-pro or better. If the time spent measuring and logging heart rate were just spent exercising more, you would be way ahead. 

Idioms Where the Mondegreen Version Makes More Sense

Mondegreens are typically mis-heard phrases where the mis-heard version makes a certain amount of sense, though often less than the intended version, and where the meaning is entirely different. But I can think of a few idioms where the mondegreen version is likely to sound far more sensible, to modern ears. Herewith my analysis and grading.

Vale of Tears vs Veil of Tears

"Vale of Tears" is a biblical expression referring to the inevitable tribulations that are part of all hu`man lives. I take "vale" to be an archaic term for "valley". But it isn't obvious why a valley should be associated with tears. Even after 10 minutes of searching, I'm not clear on the association--is the volume of tears shed so great that it could, figuratively, fill a valley? My best guess is that a particular biblical tragedy happened to occur in a vale/valley, giving birth to the phrase.

"Veil" is a homophone for vale. The image of seeing through a "veil of tears" immediately makes sense. In fact, a "veil of tears" strikes me as a beautiful, arresting poetic image.

VERDICT: In this case, I think the mondegreen is much better than the original.

Flesh Out vs Flush Out

The Mirriam-Webster site advises "think of fleshing out a skeleton". Not completely insensible, if one thinks of an artistic process of depicting the human form, but far from obvious. Whereas "flush out" is quite straightforward, assuming one is familiar with the usage of "flush" in the sense of dogs driving game out from its hiding place so that hunters can shoot it.

VERDICT: To flesh out is a rich metaphor, but obscure to most readers. A slight preference for the modern version.

Time Sink vs Time Suck

"Time Sink" is intuitive to scientists and engineers familiar with concepts such as "heat sink" and "electron sink"--something that will suck up all surplus quantities of the element in question. But for the layman, I assume it is utterly mysterious. Whereas a "time suck" suggests a sinkhole or quagmire, into which large quantities of things disappear.

VERDICT: Tie. Time Sink is a rich STEM metaphor, but very inaccessible to the layperson. On the hand, "suck" is not a noun (at least not one we prescriptivists would countenance), so the modern usage is downgraded on technical merit. I'll call it a tie.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Nonprofit or Government-Sponsored Social Graph?

Social networks are likely central to many forms of future business innovation. Innovations such as experimenting with business models other than advertising and marketing. The problem: it is now all-but-impossible to get a critical mass of people to sign up for yet another network. This creates a huge barrier to entry, entrenching the established networks (Facebook foremost among them). is one relatively well-known example of how even a high-profile, technically outstanding entrant, with something truly innovative to offer, quickly fails.

Is it possible to create a durable, viable, public social graph as a service? I am thinking of something either sponsored by a quasi-governmental entity (like Fannie Mae, or ICANN), or funded as a stand-alone organization (like Mozilla).

In particular, with the looming expectation that Facebook and the rest are going to be subject to coming government regulation, could the requirement to allow users to export their social network be part of such regulation?

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Free Shipping: Over-Valued, but not Purely a Gimmick

NPR had a good story "There's Always A Cost Associated With Free Shipping". The story partly suggests that free shipping is ultimately of a gimmick or come-on--at the end of the day, there is no free lunch, total product cost is what matters. I agree, marketing theory says, find some product cost (or other attribute) that consumers over-value (or over-dislike), and play that up for an asymmetric benefit. "Free Shipping" fits that profile.

I have a few counter-arguments for this specific case, though. First, historically merchants have sometimes treated "shipping and handling" as a profit center. I.e., advertise a low price, and only once the consumer is deep into checkout, reveal an inflated S&H charge. It is form of bait-and-switch.

Second, even if merchants are playing fair, and treating shipping as only a pass-through cost, it can be hard for consumers to predict what the shipping cost will be. Resulting in added cognitive burden, and the risk of spending time shopping and going through checkout, only to get a big surprise at the end.

So free shipping takes both of the above issues off the table.

(There are significant environmental issues associated with free 2-day shipping, I thought this was a good summary. It would be nice if Amazon led the way by pushing the green angle on not taking free 2-day if you don't need it--they already offer some credits, which is a small start.)

Saturday, December 15, 2018

A Different Kind of Nationalism for the USA?

"Nationalism" is in the news lately, in the US and elsewhere. I view myself as an American nationalist, but in a much different sense than the term is usually used. I am a "nationalist" in that my allegiance to country is far, far ahead of allegiance to state or locality. So naturally I would like to see a Congress that is constituted to reflect national interests more, and local interests less. I propose a thought experiment in that regard.

What if half of Congressional representation were de-coupled from geography? The goal being that these congresspeople would represent the interests of the entire country, not a particular state or geographical district. How could that work, and would it be a good thing?

The concept that I propose is for a national congressional district to be defined by randomly assigning voters to said district. So instead of districts that average 710,000 people within a given state, assign 710,000 voters from anywhere in the US randomly to the district. If I am right, the national congressperson would be far more inclined to take a national view, rather than stubbornly advocating for local interests--even when those interests diverge from their core beliefs.

There are of course tons of details to work out. A critical one is--who is permitted to run to represent a given district? I think that is straightforward--a person can run for the district to which they have been randomly assigned. That is their district(!)

So that speaks to some of the how. Would it be a good thing? I think it could be. Our current political system is broken in so many ways. An underlying flaw that gets way too little discussion, is the fact that 50 states, of widely varying populations, is a broken and outdated system. First, there is the somewhat widely-acknowledged flaw of size--where voters in small states have vastly disproportionate voice. There is also the dysfunction of seniority--if a given states' congressperson happens to be senior, they will be in a position to cater to the interests of that state--completely contrary to the national interest. Finally, I am pretty sure that no other democracy has gone 100 years--let alone 250--without revising its administrative districts (our U.S. states). It is miracle that this kind of man-made boundary drawing worked okay as long as it did, but it is way past time for a re-do.

I suspect a major, hidden benefit is that the national Congressional reps would be the moral exemplars. Their views would strongly signal what is best for the country, not a parochial interest.

DISCLAIMER. This is a thought-experiment. I don't expect it to happen. I certainly haven't through through all the details. But clearly the status quo is not working. The two, related things I would hope to get people thinking about are: 1) We would be well-served to look for ways to put nation before locality; 2) Closely related, the default assumption that our 250-year-old legacy of states is the ideal or natural way of doing things should be vigorously challenged.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Improved Gameplay for Codenames

I really like the board game Codenames. Especially good for 6-10 players. But as is usually the case, I have ideas for improving the rules.

There aren't enough lead changes. It usually comes down to whichever team misses one opportunity loses. Here is how I would like it to work:

  • A 6x6 grid instead of 5x5. Increases the intensity, and the opportunity for multi-matches.
  • (2) Spy cards. In playing ~30 games, I have never seen the Spy decide the game. That is mostly good, but I would like to make it a bit edgier. 
  • No 1-card clues--2-card minimum. Makes it much more challenging, especially with the above adaptation. (One mitigating strategy, if desperate, would be to include a neutral card in the clue.)
(Obviously, the pre-filled 5x5 maps the game comes with won't work. But it would not be hard to create your own 6x6 grids in Excel and print them out.)

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Anti-Pattern: Part 1 of Series Does not Part 2

Often when using the web for technical research, I will come on Part 1 in a series of articles. If Part 1 is useful, the next thing I typically want to do is read Part 2. Wouldn't a link be helpful, to let me click on through to Part 2??

I understand there is a design--challenge: often Part 2 doesn't exist when Part 1 is create. The obvious solution: when creating Part 2, take the extra time to go back edit Part 1 to add the link. The even better solution (not always possible) is to have a structure so that you know in advance where Part 2 will be posted. In that case, the editor can add a note "When available, Part 2 will be posted here".

(The article that pushed me over the edge, providing the impetus for this post, was this otherwise excellent article at O'Reilly, who really out to know better.

Monday, November 19, 2018

The NORAD-Santa Thing Sounds Like an Urban Legend

I've known of the Norad Tracks Santa thing for decades, probably before I ever heard the term urban legend. But if I were hearing of it today for the first time, I am pretty sure I would conclude "must be a UL". So, mark that down in my UL-detection record as a (fairly rare) false positive.

Of course, even true stories that become legends morph. Per Wikipedia:
Over the following years, the legend of how the annual event originated began to change. By 1961, Shoup's version of the story was that he had not been gruff with the child, but instead had identified himself as Santa Claus when he spoke to the child on the phone. Shoup and his family later modified the story further, adding that the child had dialed the "red telephone"—an impossibility, because the hotline was connected with the Strategic Air Command by an enclosed cable, and no one could dial into from the outside—rather than the regular phone on Shoup's desk, that it was a misprint in an advertisement that led the child to call him rather than the child misdialing the number, and that a flood of calls had come in from children on Christmas Eve 1955 rather than from just one child on November 30.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

What if Everyone Had the Risk Tolerance to Invest in Equities?

I invest 100% in equities. I have no plans to change this, even in retirement (still years away). Both theory and empirical evidence indicates that, over a reasonably long time horizon, equities provide a much better rate of return than bonds or, heaven forbid, CDs. So my question is, what would happen to the economy if all savers had a risk tolerance for equities? Set aside the transition effects, obviously it would be disruptive if it happened overnight. But assume over the course of a generation, everyone wises up and develops the risk tolerance for equities. What would happen?

1. Would return on equities go down, since more capital is available?
2. Would economies become more productive, since middlemen are being cut out, and risk capital is available?
3. Something else entirely?

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Navigation Apps: Better Historical Data to Extrapolate ETA

Modern navigation apps, such as Google Maps, are amazing. Refinements such as telling me which of the two left-turn lanes to take are incredibly impressive. But based on my limited experience--I am a full-time telecommuter who only occasionally drives the 30 miles across the metro to go into the office--there is one area I see a lot of room for improvement.

If I start navigation early into rush-hour, for my 30-mile cross-metro commute, I might see ETA 42 minutes. But that will typically elongate as I drive, peaking around 51 minutes. So the missing ingredient, particularly relevant for long, rush-hour drives, is the degree to which congestion builds. I have to think Google has more than enough data to build this in to their algorithm.

App Idea: Recycling

People suck at recycling. Primarily because they make mistakes of commission, motivated by good intentions. Placing a contaminated item in recycling is ~10X as bad as not recycling the same item, when not contaminated.

Ironically, I was having this very discussion with a colleague, who themselves started the discussion. I brought up my favorite example, the cardboard pizza box. Recyclable if never used, but certainly not once full of grease! To my astonishment, this was news to said colleague!

This suggests to me a mobile or Alexa/voice app idea. I envision a universal app (within the USA--apparently one already exists for the small but beloved country of Belgium) that provides directions, based on zip code and potentially other factors, such as waste-hauler, regarding what can and cannot be recycled. It would work really, really well with voice input.

(It is possible to go overboard the other way--it is wasteful of both time and water to wash containers very lightly "contaminated" with their contents--empty soda bottles, etc.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Rules for Napping

I am a big fan of short, rejuvenating mid-late afternoon naps. Just enough to take off the edge of unproductive drowsiness, without plunging into a coma-like state that makes re-awakening excruciating, or messing up one's sleep-wake cycle.

Set an alarm. This is the first commandment. Never but never nap without an alarm.

Keep it short. Everyone will have a different sweet spot, but in general, it seems like 30 minutes is the max. For me, assuming I fall asleep very quickly, 18 minutes is the ideal.

The rest of the tips relate to not getting toooo comfortable. First is: not in your bed. Don't let you body conflate napping with prolonged sleeping.

Not too warm--it is much easier to rouse one's self if not enveloped in a womblike state of torpor.

Not in the dark. The very worst thing is to start a nap at dusk, and wake up after dark.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Feature Set and Rationale for Night Suite App (Part 1)

From the day I got a smartphone, it was obvious to me that the standalone alarm clock was obsolete. Nevertheless, in the ensuing 10 years, I have continued to search for the perfect alarm clock app (Android). I still haven't found one. Alarm Clock Plus was close, until it quit being maintained in 2014. I have switched to Alarm Clock Xtreme, which is good, but not great.

What has been on my mind recently, though, is that even a perfect clock app did appear, I still wouldn't be satisfied. I want a Night Suite app. The alarm clock would anchor the night suite, but there is a lot of important, complementary functionality that I want to be fully integrated with my alarm clock.

In my view, a compelling night suite would integrate an excellent Alarm Clock with the following key functions: Do Not Disturb with Whitelist, Night Clock with super-dimming, low power warning and super-reliability.

Do Not Disturb with Whitelist

This is pretty basic, and there are good apps for it, but I want it to be integrated. If my family members need to get hold of me in the middle of a night, I want Do Not Disturb to be overridden. Not if they send me a text, mind you, but if they call my phone at 2:00am, I do want it to ring.

Bonus feature: option for whitelist or non-whitelist members to receive an auto-response when they text during Do Not Disturb hours. Customizable, here is the default: "John Doe is in Do Not Disturb mode. If this is an emergency, you can try calling to bypass Do Not Disturb mode".

Night Clock

This one is stupidly simple, but shockingly hard to find. I want a very, very dim bedside clock. Similar to an LED alarm clock--bright enough to see, dim enough not to act like a light source and cast light on my sleeping eyeballs. Currently I use a combination of an app that dims but not enough, and a filter that imposes a semi-transparent black overlay to further dim the phone.

This should be matched with sunrise functionality, that decreases the dimming toward dawn. This would need to be flexible, to handle varying degrees of room shading. This could be handled by a percentage function for Dawn Adjustment.

Low Power Warning

If power goes out during the night, and my phone is in danger of running out of battery before the alarm goes off, I would want to be woken up. Or, as is more often the case, when I don't plug it in successfully.

I think the basic functionality here would be to sound an alarm if the margin of error for power dips below a certain configurable level. Default would be 1 hour.


I am not nearly technical enough to know how to achieve this, but a world-class alarm clock, of any kind, needs to be super-reliable. So anything that could be done to ensure an alarm that is less than 10 hours away does indeed go off would be critical. The thing that comes to mind for me is that I think alarm apps can either have system alarms, or their own alarms. I believe I have experienced alarm app crashes where the app didn't re-start. Maybe one way to deal with this is for the alarm app to have its own alarm, but also set a system alarm for 2 minutes after its own alarm. When its own alarm triggers, it would shut off the system alarm. Thus, if for some reason the app alarm didn't trigger, the system alarm 2 minutes later would be the backstop.

Suite Functions

Single-push widget to go into Night Mode, as well as options for scheduled times for Night Mode. Scheduling functionality would include "X hours before alarm", where default is X=8.

Alarm Notification Icon

The typical Android alarm clock app seems to put an alarm icon in the Notification bar if one is set within the next 24 hours. As a user of pre-set and recurring alarms, I don't find this very useful. Most of the time it tells me what I already know. In the rare event I forgot to set an alarm, I don't want to rely on noticing the usual icon is not present; I want a positive notification when there is no alarm set, within X hours of my standard morning. Default X=8.

Advanced Features

This is my basic, must-have-list. See Part 2 for advanced and nice-to-have features.

Feature Set and Rationale for Night Suite App (Part 2)


From the day I got a smartphone, it was obvious to me that the standalone alarm clock was obsolete. Nevertheless, in the ensuing 10 years, I have continued to search for the perfect alarm clock app (Android). I still haven't found one. Alarm Clock Plus was close, until it quit being maintained in 2014. I have switched to Alarm Clock Xtreme, which is good, but not great.

What has been on my mind recently, though, is that even a perfect clock app did appear, I still wouldn't be satisfied. I want a Night Suite app. The alarm clock would anchor the night suite, but there is a lot of important, complementary functionality that I want to be fully integrated with my alarm clock.

In my view, a compelling night suite would integrate an excellent Alarm Clock with the following key functions: Do Not Disturb with Whitelist, Night Clock with super-dimming, low power warning and super-reliability.

Part 1 covering the rational and must-have features is here. This Part 2 covers bonus and nice-to-have features.

Core Alarm

On-the-fly snooze (a feature from Alarm Clock Plus). So when the alarm goes off, in addition to Snooze, and Dismiss, there is a third option: Snooze Until. When you select Snooze Until, it defaults to the alarm's existing snooze duration, but you can dial it up or down.

Skip until X date. My current alarm app, Alarm Clock Xtreme, has a "skip next". This is super-useful, but an advanced feature where I can skip until X date would be great for vacations.

Do Not Disturb with Whitelist

Option to reply with a text first time the number calls. Second call within period triggers a ring. Useful for travel, or relatives who aren't good at keeping track of time zones.

Low-key visual indicator if you received a call from a non-whitelist party. Possibly useful if you wake up in the middle of the night and notice and think the call could be important.


The on-the-fly snooze can be even more useful for timers.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Low Unemployment Yet No Wage Gains

I have heard so many news reports over the past few years about how tight the labor market is, yet employers are not raising wages. Here is my theory for one cause; I call it "Wages and Employment are Sticky, but Employees Do Tend to Expect Internal Equity".

Let's say you have 100 widget builders, their hourly rate is $12/hour. Demand is high, you need 15 more widget builders to meet demand. However, the labor market is tight, you aren't finding candidates at $12/hour. Based on some experimentation, you conclude that in order to attract those incremental employees, you need to offer a 10% premium to the current wage, or $13.20/hour. Given strong demand, you have pricing power (no discounts) and equipment utilization is excellent, so even at $13.20/hour, those incremental employees will be profitable.

Except--what about your 100 existing employees? They are experienced and loyal. If you are taking people in off the street at $13.20 per hour, don't the existing employees deserve at least that much?

And therein lies the problem. "Buying" incremental labor is not like buying incremental raw materials. Raw materials don't expect internal equity. In the above case, the incremental hourly cost, idealized to ignore internal eequity, would increase by 16.5%. But if we factor in the need for internal equity, it goes up to 26.5%--making additional employees much more expensive, and exerting far more pressure on profitability.

I'm not a trained economist, but that is my theory. I don't claim that it is a complete theory. For one thing, the same principle would apply over the ages--hardly unique to our time. Still, it seems I am surprised that I never hear this argument explored, in the innumerable news reports I have heard on this topic.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Republican strategist Steve Schmidt renounces the Republic party and calls for the election of Democrats

(Now former) Republican strategist Steve Schmidt renounces the Republic party and calls for the election of Democrats:
this Independent voter will be aligned with the only party left in America that stands for what is right and decent and remains fidelitous to our Republic, objective truth, the rule of law and our Allies. That party is the Democratic Party.
Season of renewal in our land is the absolute and utter repudiation of Trump and his vile enablers in the 2018 election by electing Democratic majorities. I do not say this as an advocate of a progressive agenda [my ital].  I say it as someone who retains belief in DEMOCRACY and decency.
Steve Schmidt has done what so few other traditional conservatives have done. He has publicly articulated a clear line, differentiating between transient matters of policy and mainstream American political philosophy, versus the existential, anti-democratic perils of the Trump Party. Even classical conservatives who I generally appreciate, even when I don't fully agree with them, such as Mona Charen and Jay Nordlinger, have not been able to bring themselves to state this obvious truth: the most important thing the electorate can do, the pre-requisite for moving toward health and sanity of the nation, is to banish Trump, his party, and the 98% of his party who are enablers and worse.

Given our current two-party sclerosis, that means electing Democrats. Period. The next project after that can be starting a third, center-right, party grounded in values of the Enlightenment. But first we have to overthrow the Trumpists.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Tax Simplification Opening for the Democrats

"Tax simplification" is typically a Republican issue. You know--eliminate all those confusing brackets. Or--we will make taxes so simple you can file your return on a postcard.

The Republicans had their go at tax reform, and I'm pretty sure it did not include too much tax simplification.

The thing is, there IS a huge opportunity here. In many countries, for the 80% of people with straightforward tax situations, it is even better than file on a postcard. The government agency sends you a pro-forma tax return. If you think it is correct, you sign and send back. That simple.

This could be done in the USA as well, but the tax-prep lobby stands in the way.

I think this would be a KILLER campaign theme for Democrats.

Jargonwatch: Cover Off, On

In my corporate workplace, I am starting to hear the phrase "cover off on" to mean, well, "cover".  Examples:
  • Can I call you to cover off on a few things?  
  • Do we have anything else to cover off on before we adjourn?
So not one, but two, superfluous prepositions.

I did a quick search, was surprised to find nothing on this usage. What I did find were complaints (1, 2) about "cover off"--which, I agree, is itself objectionable. One of the proposed etymologies was a mental combining of "can we cover this topic" [so] "I can check it off my list". I think that is a stretch.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Home Circuit Breaker Labeling

Just spent 40 minutes updating and correcting the labeling on my home's electrical panel. Vagueness, unclear abbrevs, messy writing, omissions and outright mistakes. Some of that is inevitable human sloppiness, but it occurred to me that a few things could be done to improve it.

Instead of a label stuck to the panel, make it an insert in a sleeve that is stuck to the panel. Advantages:

1. Can remove it, so making it easier to write legibly.
2. Can replace cleanly with an updated copy--no cross-outs.

For bonus points, industry should standardize the template, so it can readily be printed off from the web. Here is a link to the simple template I made.

For super bonus points, include a schematic of the house, with rooms numbered, and cross reference breaker numbers to room numbers.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Amazon Feature Idea: Delayed Review Reminders

Amazon reviews are useful, but the best reviews come from people who have used the product for months. However, it seems like most reviews posted are from people who have used the product for days. I think human nature is either to be excited about a new purchase and review it shortly upon receipt, or never.

So my idea for a minor, optional Amazon feature would be to let buyers opt-in to be gently prompted to review things weeks/months after purchase. The exact duration of the prompt could be algorithmic, taking into account the nature of the product, and any gaps in the existing distribution of reviews.

Monday, December 11, 2017

NPR News Functionality on Mobile Continues to Break My Heart

I am an NPR superfan, a 25-year avid listener (and yes, sustaining member). I do 95% of my listening on my Android phone. Most days, I listen to Morning Edition and All Things Considered. I do skip stories, either the ones I don't care about, or the ones that seem repetitious. Still, I think I am around 98.2 percentile of NPR flagship news programs devotees.

I have long had a love-hate relationship with NPR on mobile, Android in particular. Here is a blog post from 2013 where I critiqued the NPR app. Not much has changed.

What I would really prefer is for NPR to be more podcast-friendly. In general, I don't want to install a separate app for every media brand I consume. I would definitely make an exception for NPR, but only if the app matched podcast app features--which I seriously doubt will ever be the case. Top of list:
  1. Accelerated voice playback, in user-defined increments (I currently prefer 1.4X).
  2. Automatic download and queuing.
So, I would settle for NPR news content being more podcast friendly. First and foremost, that would include a reliable feed. In 5+ years, those have come and gone. They actually seem to have returned, recently, but only a few months ago, in a private email exchange I had with NPR, the organization seemed to COMPLETELY reject the idea that there was mainstream demand to listen to Morning Edition and All Things Considered, via podcast:

So I am happy that the feeds are up again (however long they last). Still, they have a few major problems:

  1. Time delay. They are hours behind the actual newscast, and the NPR app.
  2. They seem to have timestamp problems. When I sort in A-Z date published order, they seem reversed.
  3. Worst--each is a single episode. NPR is totally missing the idea that loyal listeners want the entire show! Ah, but you say maybe they want to skip stories. Yes, definitely--that's what chapters are for!
Then recently I read a Slate article that referred to a redesign initiative at NPR. I did some searching, and was momentarily thrilled to see they have an update to the News App in beta. I was about to apply to be a beta tester then I saw it--iOS only.

NPR, you are breaking my heart.