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.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

My Podcasts List

Podcasts are to audio what Netflix + DVR is to video. Perhaps more so. Most of the time when  I am working out, driving, or doing mindless domestic chores (cooking, dishwashing, laundry, lawn, etc etc),  I consume podcasts. There are so many, there is so much to learn. (Yes, there is a time for quiet, contemplative solitude, sometimes I do that, too.) Here are my current faves.


3-4 colleagues, all academic historians, who provide in-depth discussions of subjects in American History. Great rapport and collegiality, high production values, intellectually worthy.l

Dan Carlin's Hardcore HistoryThis is a "cult" podcast. Episodes only come out every 2-4 months, but they are 4-6 hours long. Dan Carlin is a former media pro and amateur history buff. Awesome storyteller of history, idiosyncratic, consistent style, range of history is incredibly wide, though mostly non-American, lots of it ancient. Always a must-listen.

More Perfect
A spinoff of Radiolab, legal history.

Revisionist History
Malcolm Gladwell, about 10 1-hour episodes per season. Must-listen. (Favorite episode: the one that ties Wilt Chamberlain's ultra-legendary 100-point basketball game, to social behavior.)


Accidental Tech Podcast
In theory this shouldn't interest me, 3 Apple fanboys (in the best sense of the word) spending 60% of their time discussing Apple products (which I never buy), 40% of the time doing very good but arbitrary and idiosyncratic consumer tech analysis. Outstanding chemistry and collegiality, very high production values, even though the most indie of anything on my list.

Infotech business analysis and strategy, must-listen.

General Interest

Death, Sex & Money
Not much sex, just a good documentary podcast. I think the name is meant to suggest it focuses on topics that are of eternal interest..

Podcast that continues the spirit of the book. Applying economic analytical techniques to myriad everyday situations.

Planet Money
I haven't listened a lot, but similar to Freakonomics, but specifically focused on financial topics.

Legendary radio show, podcast form. Great scientific storytelling that results from the intellectual curiosity of 2 media pros.

Science Vs
Like a well-curated, highly entertaining literature survey, on topical issues, such as what remedies work to cure balding, or is the bee-apocalypse real?

The Moth
Unique, always-entertaining live storytelling podcast. Broad appeal across the Myers-Briggs spectrum. The podcast analog to Prairie Home Companion.

This American Life
The amazing Ira Glass, the trailblazing radio show in podcast form.

General News

Documentary-form, where the reporter is "embedded" with the subject. E.g. expose of the satanic for-profit prison industry, by embedding a reporter as a guard for several months.

Classic investigative reporting.

The Documentary (BBC)
Classic BBC, high-end documentaries on various topics.

Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me
News quiz show. Only funny if you are well-informed. Host Peter Sagal is an improv genius. Causes me to laugh out loud, when listening at the gym.


Need To Know
Traditional, Reaganite conservatives Mona Charen and Jay Nordlinger are hosts. Sometimes a guest, sometimes not. Thoughtful political analysis, right-wing, but anti-Trump, traditional, intellectual, not religious (though sympathetic at times), not Alt-Right. Heirs to William F. Buckley. Good for educating millenials on what conservatism used to be like.

Slate's Whistlestop
Political history, quite excellent.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Franken Should Resign

Al Franken should resign over his sexual harassment of Leeann Tweeden. I say this as a center-left person, and Franken supporter/voter/constituent. In other times--given the lower degree of offense on the spectrum, his apparent remorse, and the vicitm's statement that he shouldn't be forced to resign--the answer might be different. But not in these times. The bar needs to be set, the example provided. Franken must fall on his sword, without delay. It is the most morally and politically consequential thing he can do, more so even than continuing to serve out his term as senator.

If he does this, running for the seat when it comes up again is not out of the question--assuming there are not more of these, hiding in the closet. The historical moment will have progressed, hopefully for the better; his offense was relatively lesser; and most important of all, he will have voluntarily performed a meaningful act of ethical atonement.

(Keeping in mind, in reference to other cases, current and future, that grave offenses can never be eligible for political redemption).

Monday, November 06, 2017

Virtual Visits - Finally Dispense with the Minor Waste of Height, Weight, Blood Pressure

Every single time I visit the doctor--for a sinus infection, for a cut that might need a stitch, whatever--we go through the ritual of height, weight, blood pressure. I've always thought it was a minor waste, but nobody seemed interested in eliminating the waste.

Except now, virtual visits to the doctor are rapidly gaining traction. And of necessity, virtual visits must dispense with this mindless record-keeping. Amazing how something that seemed unthinkable is suddenly totally negotiable.

Another example: for years I have been complaining about the convention of "3 incorrect password attempts and your account is locked". Who determined 3 is optimal?! Too easy to combine mis-remembering and a typo or two, and you are done for. I always thought nearly the same level of security could be achieved with a range of 6-8. But 3 seemed nearly universal.

Then mobile came along, and the challenges of a small, virtual keyboard made 3 impossible. So, overnight, the limit was increased to 10!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Refined Scoring in Scrabble-Like Games

I have many ideas for refining the scoring in Scrabble like games:
  • Cap on points per letter
  • Cap on points per turn
  • Bonuses for playing the Best Word
  • Bonuses for word length
  • Bonuses for infrequently played words

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Visio 2010 Layers - Yech!

I have long known Visio has a Layers feature, but I have never used it, nor seen anyone else use it. I had a little time on my hands, and a use case that could benefit layers, so I decided to invest 40 minutes in trying to master it. Yech--very clunky. (Disclaimer--I'm a salaryman, so at the mercy of the corporate upgrade cycle. This is Visio 2010. For all I know, it is better in a later version.)

Without thinking too long and hard about how it should work, instead of burying the Layers commands in a modal dialog, it would be much better if each Layer were a horizontal tab on your drawing. Standard CTRL-click functionality to display multiple layers at once.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Healthcare Cost Savings Idea: DIY CPAP

Does anyone who ever goes for a sleep study not get a CPAP prescribed?

I had a sleep study. It cost about $1800. Insurance covered it, sort of: with a high-deductible plan, it effectively came out of pocket.

Of course the finding was mild sleep apnea, treatable with CPAP. Insurance covered the CPAP machine, a Respironics Dreamstation. Cost: another $1800. Again, covered, but only after cost-sharing, so effectively not.

Guess what that CPAP machine costs on Amazon? Less than $400! I have no idea why insurance would pay 4.5X as much. Sure, there is a little value-add for the lesson from the respiratory therapist. Being generous, that is worth maybe $100. (For those inclined to self-study, easily replaced by YouTube or a 5-page paper.)

So here is my idea. Primary Care Providers should be able to prescribe CPAP. So long as the patient is healthy, and not complaining of extraordinary symptoms--skip the expensive sleep study. Just prescribe them a CPAP machine, and see if it helps.

Voila, over $1000 cost taken out of the system.

(I wonder how they do it in other countries?)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Small idea to simplify updating auto insurance card

You know how when you get your replacement credit card, it arrives a month or so before your old one expires, but is effective immediately? That's smart--no need to manage the transition by hanging on to the old one until the last day. You know what's dumb? How auto insurance cab cards work. They, too, arrive a month in advance. But unlike credit cards, the insurance cab card has an effective date. So you can't just immediately replace your current card with the new one.
Instead of trying to manage the transition--remember to put them in the car the very night before they expire--I just put them in immediately, along with the prior one (and I remove the prior prior). But I can foresee, in some moment of panic, one of my family members will pull out the expired card, and think they don't have the current one.
I expect there is a regulatory element to this. Like so many things in life, just a combination of independently reasonable policies and practices that combine to create an annoyingly flawed experience. Obviously, if anyone was paying attention and cared (regulators included, perhaps principally), the 6-month thing could be finessed. 
But in the absence of that, I think a reasonable hack may be available to an insurer, without requiring any regulatory chnages. Provide a copy of the new card, along with a repeat of the old card, with some kind of "EXPIRING SOON" stamp across the old one (or if regulators didn't like that, above the margins of the old card) Then you could just cut out, fold in half and voila.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dream Hoarders

I've been following Richard Reeves, author of Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do about It lately, as well as some other writers on the same topic.

In this latest newsletter, he highlights pundits who disagree, including Robert J. Samuelson, Samuelson says Reeves has it almost backward, the upper-middle class are setting a good model for society to aspire to:
Reeves has the story almost backward. As a society, we should try not to restrict the upper middle class, but to expand it. In general, it’s doing what we ought to want the rest of society to do. Its marriage rates are higher, its out-of-wedlock births are lower, its education levels are higher. As for parents, why make them feel guilty for wanting to help their children? What are parents for, after all?
I think there is a straightforward reconciliation to their two positions, and it is already embedded, I think, in Reeves model. The problem being that the UMC may disproportionately enjoy these traits in their own orbits, but exclusionary housing policies, and the leveraging of networks, prevent them from migrating to less privileged groups.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Remote Car Hacking

There are a lot of articles about the vulnerability of cars to remote car hacking. I continue to think that it should not be possible to update car control software over a wireless connection. Period. Physical access needed to update.

That's not a panacea, but it seems like it would eliminate a lot of the problem. Also, the article talked about passengers hacking driverless cars via the ODB2 port, and exiting the car. Partial physical solution there is to lock the ODB2 port--maybe under the hood. Of course securing the software is the more complete solution.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Healthcare Not Deserved Case?

Cases like this one are maddening to those of us who do generally believe that healthcare is a right:
"Already being treated for diabetes, but 'I started drinking soda again,” confessed Willie Johnson...'Quite a bit.' Also "stopped taking his cholesterol medicine because it left a bad taste in his mouth. And he was using neither the gym membership that IU Health helps pay for nor his sleep apnea machine. 'I never could get adjusted to it,' he told the docto
This guy is never going to get better. I can maybe feel sorry for him in the cosmic sense that somehow he (presumably) has this terrible disposition toward unhealthy habits and absolutely no motivation to take care of his health. Maybe there is some deeper underlying cause for that (depression, PTSD for example--who knows?). But as a good-government centrist, I really can't feel sorry for his health situation--nor do I feel that he deserves healthcare. It is a waste of resources, he will never get better. He literally can't be bothered to lift a finger on his own behalf. Spend the money on healthcare and education instead.

Don't get me wrong, I know this is anecdotal evidence, and the exception. In no way is it to be construed as a evidence for "see, most of the people getting government-assisted healthcare are this kind of 'undeserving sick' ". That's why I'm blogging about this, rather than Facebooking,

Monday, January 02, 2017

Young Males and Car Preferences

Many things have changed since my youth. Including the general importance of cars (go, millenials!) A couple of things that haven't completely changed:

  1. Young males impractically prefer 2-door cars. 
  2. Young males impractically prefer manual transmissions.
Even in my day, #1 was (in my book) a silly aesthetic preference. The drawbacks of 2-doors are overwhelming. I have only owned one in my life. Not because I wanted 2-doors, but it was a cheapie Tercel, and I think that is all they came in. My son insisted on buying a 2-door Focus a couple of years ago, and every now and then I have cause to drive it, and every time, I hate it. I have never had to sit in the back, thankfully, so that biggest drawback is not even my reason for complaining. But the doors are heavy and cumbersome. And the seatbelt is much harder to reach (I know this because I owned a 4-door Focus, which did not share this problem--not quite sure why).

#2 had some justification in my day. Manual transmission was cheaper (I'm guessing about 7%), and got maybe 10% better mileage. But those advantages have almost disappeared, and the problem is, nobody drives manual. So spouse, friends, may not be able to drive your car in a pinch.