Friday, December 23, 2016

Texting App Feature

Bundle multiple texts, selected in chain, into an email.

Even IF He Were Politically Paltable, Trump Has 2 Fatal Flaws

I think Trump is a monster. There are so many reasons to believe that. But even if his words and beliefs were reasonable, there are 2 things he does that are the hallmark of a severe problem personality, and disqualify a person from any kind of leadership position.

One: the nothing-is-ever-my-fault attitude. Never even the slightest admission of fault, mistake, or weakness. We've all worked with this person. They are all about finger-pointing, whenever anything goes wrong. Utterly poisonous to a workplace.

Two: crossing them in any way is treated as an all-out attack. Trump is utterly transparent in this regard--he doesn't even try to hide it. Any party who is in any way anti-Trump is immediately subject to a no-holds-barred, ad hominem attack. Any party who does Trump a favor, even if only by accident, is praised lavishly.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Easy-Remove Car Batteries, for Cold (Convenience Also)

Growing up, our garage was an unheated peninsula attached to the house. So it would get as cold as the outdoor temperature. During one cold snap, with lows consistently -10F (to the best of my recollection), my Dad would bring the car battery inside every night. Worked great.

With modern auto technology (fuel injection, probably better oil, maybe better batteries), this wouldn't be necessary at -10F. I have consistently been able to start modern cars around -20. But the one time in my 15 years in American Siberia that it got well below -20, I took the opportunity to do an experiment. Sure enough, at -27, vehicle did not start. (Later in the heat of the day, -13, it started fine.)

So anyway, that got me to thinking--I don't think it would be too hard, or expensive, to design car batteries to be "snap-in, snap-out". Use spring-loaded clamps on the terminals, instead of bolted lugs. Extra credit, to make sure they hold (and reduce the required spring strength)--provide an indentation on the terminal (I'm thinking groove around it), and a corresponding protrusion on the clamping contact, to mate into it. Also, a similar grooved, spring loaded clamp to hold the battery in place.

Clearly, this would be useful in the very coldest places (even MSP is only marginal). But I think it wouldn't be that hard, once auto designers put their mind to it (like flip-out windshield wipers). The thing is, besides helping the 1% of the population that wants to bring their battery in the house to keep it warm, it would make changing the battery much easier for 100% of the population.

Snow Tire Benefits

Snow tires are amazing. Yes, in many places, with the advent of front-wheel drive, you can live without them. If you have a heavy vehicle, you can even do pretty well, even in snowy climes. Our Dodge Grand Caravan plowed through snow, and did okay on ice, with all-season tires, here in American Siberia.

But snows help so much. I first re-discovered snows for our small cars: Ford Focus, Honda Civic. Terrible snow/ice performance without snows (especially with OEM low-profile plus-size tires). Add snow tires--they performed better in slick conditions than abovementioned behemoth minivan.

Our kids drive those small cars now, and Beth and I drive a Subara Forester, and Toyota Prius V, respectively. I just got snows for them, and wow, what an improvement. Yeah, the Subaru is AWD, but honestly, for most slick conditions in the flat midwest, snows are more important than AWD. AWD is great for going uphill when slick, but flat & slick is the most common challenge in MSP, and the softer rubber of snow tires is what helps with that.

Snow tires do cost, especially since you need a second set of rims. Here are my tips:

  • The price of steel rims varies widely. For small cars, $50 is fair, for plain-Jane steel rims; for mid-size, maybe $62.
  • Consumer Reports has consistently rated General Arctic Altimax snow tires highly. They are not the very best--usually those are Michelins--but they are close, for 40% less cost. I now have them on all 4 vehicles.
  • I have ordered online, from TireRack. They will ship either directly to you, or to a designated installer. Their prices are great, but the high cost of shipping does tend to eat up much of the savings. Here's the thing--if you are getting rims + tires, they will preinstall them for you, saving the cost of installation. On top of that, if you live in a major metro area, such as MSP, you may be able to pick them up at the TireRack warehouse, for no charge. That's what I did this time.
  • When evaluating the cost, you need to use lifecycle amortization techniques. In the long-term, the substantial cost of the snow tires is partially offset by the fact that you aren't wearing out your summer tires as fast. Granted, snows may cost a bit more (not that much), and wear faster (softer rubber), but that is maybe a 30% premium. I.e., if a snow tire costs $75, the true incremental cost for that tire is probably $25. The second set of rims, on the other hand, the rims, at $50-$65 per, are pure incremental cost (unless you can use them on a future vehicle).
  • A major pro tip is "minus sizing". If you have a mid-size or larger car (>16" rims), both rims and snows become very, very expensive. I was almost going to pass on snows for the Forester, for this reason. The cost was double the Prius, which has 16" rims. Then I read TireRack's recommendation for minus-sizing winter tires. It cut the cost in half.
  • Another bonus to ordering online: you can avoid the cost of TPMS (about $20 per wheel). Many states require installers to add a TPMS sensor, if the car is so equipped. But the mail-order sidesteps this. (Of course you lose the benefit of TPMS. But really, you should not rely on TPMS, you shoudl check your tire pressure at least every 3 weeks,)

A downside, beyond the obvious financial impact--you have to store the tires. We put them under our our deck. For a few years, I tried covering them with a tarp. Results were so-so. Then I thought to search Amazon, and found these--inexpensive covers forr stacks of tires. Highly recommended.

Oh yeah, the other downside is spending an entire Saturday in November, and another in March, swapping tires. You can hire this out, but if you have 4-5 cars, like me, it is easier to just DIY than go back and forth to the shop.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

We Must Establish the Republican Brand

The Republicans and the Right have completely capitulated, and in many cases, cravenly embraced, Trumpism. We patriots, resolutely opposed to the Trump/Republican/right agenda, need to lay the groundwork for the day, hopefully not so far off, that Trump is reviled like Hoover (not necessarily for the same reasons, just the same result).

A tactic I propose is to relentlessly hammer home these facts, at every opportunity:

In the short-term, Repulicans/right are the party that took 10 steps backwards in health insurance, and caused millions to lose their coverage.

In the medium-term, Republicans/right are the party of Donald Trump--inseparable and indistinguishable, and wholly accountable for, any and all Trump policies, random actions, and their results.

In the long-term, Republicans/right are the party that not only ignored, but aggressively denied and dissembled about climate change, long after doing so became anything but an exercise in ideology or wishful thinking.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Why Adults Don't Learn to Like Rap

Not that I have ever tried, but I have developed zero appreciation for rap as a musical genre. Not even the odd song here or there. I have roughly the same appreciation for it that my father, born 1932, had for rock: none whatsoever.

So when I reported back to my kids that I over-the-moon LOVED the Hamilton soundtrack, they were like "Even the rap?" Yes, even the rap. Things is--I wouldn't have recognized it as rap, without prompting. I would have just said it was spoken-word material, seamlessly incorporated into an ultra-sophisticated piece of peerless musical theater. 

I think I know why I choke on any rap I encounter in the wild, while Hamilton went down like a fine aged whiskey. It's not that different than rock. Rock was the soundtrack of my adolescence, so I automatically developed an appreciation for it. But by college, I was getting tired of most rock, with its juvenile, repetitive themes of partying, young love, rebellion and--worst of all--being in a band and "rocking out". I listened to less rock, and didn't discover any new rock, beyond the college years.

So same phenomenon with rap. If not born in the rap generation, the themes and the cultural baggage are likely to prevent an older listener from developing a taste. This review gets at it:
Tesfaye’s relish for playing the bad guy in his musical theater is plumb in line with what rappers have done for decades...But as Tesfaye reaches his late 20s and the dubious ethics combine with lazy repetition and too many plays for sympathy, the immaturity starts to bore.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

The Dirty Truth About Obamacare

Obamacare is so messy and troubled, even President Obama doesn't like Obamacare. He can't admit it publicly, of course, but I'm sure it's the case. And if the man isn't proud of his signature achievement, that pretty much means he must be the worst president ever...right?

Nope. The unpleasant but inescapable fact is, politics is the art of the possible[6]. The Obama administration decided that tinkering around the edges was the most that could be accomplished. No single-payer, certainly no National Health Service[1][2]. Tinkering around the edges inherently involves what we computer nerds might call "a pile of hacks". It's a miracle it works at all, and it's certainly not pretty, and it is very fragile. That's Obamacare.

We can quibble in hindsight. On the left, many wished for something grander. On the right, many wished for nothing--though they won't admit that now. Because here is the real dirty truth. The American healthcare "system" is hardly a system. It is a Frankenstein monster that was started by accident[3], and continued to grow first because nobody recognized the danger, and then because nobody had the courage to do something. You can't find an economist or public health expert, and hardly a hospital administrator or physician, who has much good to say about it. The system is shot through with flaws, perverse incentives, inefficiencies, false premises and conflicts of interest.

It has been this way my entire adult life (I was born in 1965), and then some. And all that time, a succession of administrations, some Democratic and some Republican, came and went without trying too hard to fix it. On the Democratic side, there were sporadic efforts. The shining exception would be Medicare. It has imperfections[4], but all-in-all, it's a pretty coherent, cost-efficient system that provides effective coverage and care. And of course the Clinton administration tried something grander, but we all know how that turned out.

Mostly, the Republicans did nothing[5]. Other than periodically resorting to the empirically false defense of claiming "America has the best healthcare in the world, [thus it must be worth the cost]". So Obamacare is terribly imperfect, but it is a SOMETHING that is better than the longstanding alternative of NOTHING.

Politics is the art of the possible. A pile of hacks. That's all Obamacare is. At least in Round 1. Because here is the other thing. Incrementalism is like compound interest or regular exercise. Its effects are imperceptible from day-to-day, but over time, it can be transformational.

Thus, I also believe that Obama, thoughtful political scientist and patient human that he is, hoped the initial Affordable Care Act was the start of something bigger. A mere opening move, a means to break the logjam of do-nothing inertia. A program that could be iteratively improved, or perhaps even completely replaced with something much more ambitious. Unfortunately, in calculating the worst case, Obama underestimated the intransigence and tribalism of the contemporary Republican Party Party of Donald Trump.

So unimproved Obamacare is all we get. Not so much, but definitely better than nothing. (To those who couldn't afford health insurance but now can, probably much, much better than nothing.)

While Obama undoubtedly recognizes, and surely deplores grieves, the imperfections of Obamacare, he can rightly take pride in it. And much more pride in the political leadership he provided in enacting it. Obama did what he could to push the the nation forward, and his reward was to incur the wrath of the Party of Donald Trump, and bitter disappointment from the left. As a passionate centrist, and an empiricist, I love Barak Obama more than any president or politician I can think of. I will miss him very much.


NOTES
[1] Single-payer is not synonymous with "socialized medicine". It does not require that the government run the whole system--employer of all healthcare providers and provider of all hospitals and other facilities.

[2] Also, contrary to popular hearsay belief in the U.S., the NHS doesn't actually suck, at all.

[3] Ironically, the seeds were sown largely by misguided government tinkering (WWII wage and price controls) and tax policy (exempting employer-paid premiums from income tax).

[4] Those imperfections are mostly related to under-"reimbursement"--not paying enough for procedures. That is an effect of the coherent sub-system of Medicare trying to exist within the larger Frankenstein system. 

[5] The odd exception of George W. Bush passing Medicare Part D--prescription drug coverage. Making the most functional part of the monster much better, but doing nothing to improve the rest of the system. The political calculus probably being that this would be a very good way to court elderly votes, and since it didn't mess with the overall system, it wouldn't inflame entrenched ideologies and interests.

[6] Clear corollary: any politician who promises "no compromise" should immediately be rejected as a cynical liar, or hopelessly naive.

Emal Client Feature Idea: Address Substitution

Since the advent of Gmail, email addresses have become much more stable. For most of us, gone are the days when we switch from cable to DSL, and in doing so, have to change our email address.

Still, from time to time, acquaintances to change their email address. This is where Gmail giveth, and taketh away. The auto-complete keeps remembering the old email address. Even if you personally fix this in your Contacts, other friends in your circle (assuming you have a circle of friends) will send emails with the old address in the distribution. So when you do a Reply All, the old address is propagated.

I envision an email client feature which would fix this. I would like to be able to specify address substitution. So when I do Reply All to Jane.Doe@oldaddress.com, my email client will replace with Jane.Doe@newaddress.com.

The minor details--confirmation dialog, for example--are left as an exercise for the reader. :)