This one took a few seconds…


I recently learned that the ‘punchline’ often required a mouse-over, give it a try…

Even after reading the mouse-over text I still had to think about it for a few more seconds (I was clueless entirely until the mouse-over), but, dammit, he is right! Why do we persist in ignoring the information science has gleaned over the years? It took decades to get their tails off the floor and hold them in the air as the counterbalance to the long neck, how long until we cloth them properly?

Burn it! Burn it all down!

How to demolish the oligarchy in 3 easy steps
American democracy has been tainted by lobbying and corporate interests. How do we fix it? Blow it all up

This is a nice clean summary of some of the pivotal sources of inequality in our ‘great nation’. This doesn’t require that the rich pay higher taxes (though they certainly should), it only requires that parasites on our dysfunctional system get shed for the greatest good for the greatest number…

We have six separate, major American health care programs, with different streams of revenue and based on different systems

America’s health care policies are a dog’s breakfast. America’s retirement policies are a dog’s breakfast that a dog barfed up later.

By my count, that’s four distinct major retirement systems in the U.S.

Education? We have public provision: public K-12 and public community colleges and state universities. Outside of this system of direct public educational provision, we have a separate system of federal student loans. And a third system of federal grants. And because three incompatible systems of aiding higher education are not enough—this is America!—we have yet a fourth, completely different system of tax-favored college savings accounts. America’s system of funding higher education is not quite as insanely complicated as our health care and retirement systems. But we’re getting there!

The political scientist Steven Teles calls this kind of baroque public policy “kludgeocracy.” Another way to describe it would be that Rube Goldberg gets elected and promotes various goals—health care, retirement security, educational access—by means of needlessly elaborate contraptions involving candles, levers, and gerbils running on wheels.

Who benefits from this complexity? Lobbyists, tax preparers, accountants, and rent-seeking parasites in the private sector who figure out how to game these needlessly elaborate systems to skim money from taxpayers and rate payers. Complexity is the friend of corruption. Simplicity, on the other hand, promotes democracy.

Equal rights for all, special privileges for none.

Fantasy? In the short term, sure. The well-paid parasites who profit from complexity will see to that. But there are two kinds of politics: Moving the ball and moving the goal-posts. This is about moving the goal-posts. This is about the next generation, not the next election.

Rome was not built in a day, and the antiquated, crumbling, rat-infested fire hazard that is American public policy will not be condemned, demolished and replaced by a clean, modern, solid structure overnight. But the sooner we start the demolition, the better. In the meantime, “Equal rights for all, special privileges for none” would make a good campaign slogan in 2016.

So sad…

When charter schools are nonprofit in name only
Many institutions are paying for-profit companies for management services, and regulators are taking notice

The rich get richer, the taxpayer takes it in the ass. Ain’t America Grand? has decided to ‘invest’ $1 million in an effort to get Elizabeth Warren to run in ’16. I hope she does; though I am intrigued with the idea of a female President and might vote for Hillary if it comes to that, I am quite certain she (Hillary) is no different than Obama (or McCain or Romney for that matter) and her being President means business as usual. Of course, Warren might sell out (have already sold out), but it is a certainty that Hillary already has. I doubt that the GOP will put up anyone moderate enough to appeal to the swell of democratic leaning voters for the ’16 election, the Tea Party will ensure that anyone who gets nominated will have to at least act like a crazy. A friend supports the Republican Ben Carson. If he is moderate enough to appeal to moderate voters then I doubt he can make it through the nomination process; if he is wacko enough to get the Tea Party seal of approval, I doubt he will appeal to the moderate voters. It is possible, though, that he could make a good President, but I am so sure that it is the Democrats election to lose that I can’t even generate the enthusiasm to read his Wiki page.

It is looking like the laser tag idea is going to fall by the wayside. Realizing that I might wind up spending thousands to save hundreds, I started to inquire how much my ASIC detector wafers might cost. Shockingly, I can’t get anyone to give me any figure which makes me think that the price is too high. I have considered revisiting the UMD FabLab where I made some halting efforts to get my DNA chip fabricated years ago, but my wife thinks even thinking about that idea is a waste of time. She pointed out that I have many other things I should be thinking/working on and I agreed that my time is probably (likely (almost certainly)) better spent working on the ‘retro’ game. Oh well, it entertained my brain for a number of hours.

Regarding our glacially evolving construction efforts: I have been spending the last couple of weekends getting prepped for the boiler installation for heating the pool. It is amazing how expensive copper fittings are, once you get away from the 1/2 and 3/4 inch variety at the Big Box Stores. We probably spent close to $300 for a couple of dozen fittings, on top of the $350 or so for the titanium heat exchanger and of course the $3,400 for the boiler itself. Oh, we will probably also pay a bit North of $1K for the installation by the professional plumber (to preserve the warranty). Heating the pool went from less than $2K to now over $5K, but the efficiency went from 80% to 96% and since we might wind up doing the bulk of the greenhouse heating from the radiant heat of the pool, I expect that extra percentage will pay for itself in 5 years or less.

Tacloban, Philippines (where my ‘rents-in-law live) managed to avoid the worst of the nearly super typhoon Ruby (also known as Hagupit). The eye went well North of them, but they did have some wind damage and the storm surge evidently put a foot or so of water in the street in front of the house. The airport was messed up enough, though, that they will be a week late visiting us for the holidays. The word I heard was even where the eye passed over the islands (it went over the North end of Samar) the storm surge was a lot less than Yolanda and the winds a bit lower. Also, people took the warnings seriously and got the hell out of dodge.

In case I don’t get on the blog in the next couple of weeks, a very happy holidays to all my reader(s)!

Organic: better, the same or worse?

Is organic food better for you?

While things _may_ have progressed to the point where we are getting negative returns on our investment, for the most part the last several centuries of steadily increasing technological application toward food has resulted in dramatically reduced deaths, dramatically increased yields and as a consequence, a whole lot more humans to deal with. The majority of organic products come with increased incidence of illness and reduced yields and as a consequence, can only support a smaller population. There have been reproducible differences detected between organic and conventional foods, but those differences are generally (scientifically) not considered significant. Much like the folderol regarding the supposed dangers of microwaving foods (interestingly there are fewer reports on the massively greater scientific documentation on the health hazards of charring food), there is no real evidence that organic foods are in any way healthier than their non-organic counterparts. As a consequence, it boils down pure and simple to an emotional decision, there is no science to support the decision to go organic but there is clear science that overall organic has increased incidence of illnesses (due to the general lack of oversight, e.g., unpasteurized milk).

This isn’t to say that there aren’t viable methods to produce the same food with a vastly lower impact on our environment, just that ‘organic’ food isn’t worth the price unless you like overpaying for the same benefit.

“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”

Why the GOP really wants to defund IRS
Hint: It’s not about punishing administrative incompetence.

Back from my week long ‘vacation’ (the bulk of which was 10-12 hours a day of back breaking work (in sauna-like temps) to get ready for the July 4th party) and catching up on the news. The above article is quite interesting to me (really! it is worth a read!) and apropos given that I got this from a good friend yesterday:

Education Profiteering; Wall Street’s Next Big Thing?

Which reminded me of a few past posts that are all related to the steady and largely successful efforts by the elite to extract tax dollars from the middle class while simultaneously maximizing polarization in our country:

Also prison privatization is ‘great’ for profit as well:

There is also good reason to think the shenanigans with the post office are all about union busting:

After that bit of shameless plugging of my own posts I will say that the party was pretty much an unqualified success. My primary goal of getting the cooks out of the house was a roaring success and all greeted the pavilion with excitement and approval. I was able to relax from the 4th on (we also took off yesterday (Monday) as well) and sit around, eat and smoke cigars (and watch the Tour de France live). The weather also moderated nicely for the weekend as well. I will try to get updated pictures on my web site soon and post back here…

This is what happens when you spoil your children

Student’s lawsuit against parents for support loses first round in court

Though I think the bimbo (am I revealing my bias with that choice of word?) at the center of this is totally wrong and hopefully the court will agree, at the same time I blame her parents for the situation. It seems clear to me that the little darling has never been told ‘no’ in her life and got upset when it finally came (clearly she doesn’t know what abuse is); had her parents introduced her with the word ‘no’ and what it means (not ‘later’ or ‘when-you-ask-enough-times-I-will-agree-just-to-shut-you-up’) when she was younger, no doubt she would understand her current situation and had she decided to run away she wouldn’t be air-headed enough to sue her parents.

Oh, lets take a moment to curse the parents of her friends. What fucked up people are going to encourage / enable this airhead to sue her parents? The article says they are paying for the suit, what the fuck is it their business? The bimbo is 18 years old, it seems clear she left the house under her own terms, yet these assholes want to get involved. Plenty of blame to go around, but the core of it is her parents gave their little darling everything she wanted, until they finally wouldn’t any more, now they get to pay the price: nation-wide exposure and the Internet to remember forever what crappy parents they are.

I will be sending this to my wife, she needs to develop more comfort with ‘no’ and our boy…


Blind eye to scientific fraud is dangerous

I debated blogging about the above article. When I read it I was motivated, but as I started to think about what I would write that would be different than stuff I wrote before I couldn’t think of anything to add. The anti-science attitude here in the US seems stronger than ever and poised to get stronger still, but that is old news. That people would rather believe in nonsense spoken to them forcefully and with authority rather than take 10 minutes to do their own research is also old news. However, I decided I would bring this to the attention of my reader(s) in case they might be interested in someone else’s take.

The Knowledge Journey

On my ride in this morning I had a mental conversation with my boy about encyclopedias in general and Wikipedia in particular. I figured it would be a good thing to add to my blog, so here she be…

There are no absolutes in knowledge. There is only the best picture at present. Open minded people grasp that immediately, others not so much. Any student of science will know that what is known absolutely one day might be completely contradicted the next (this doesn’t happen very often and when it does it sometimes takes an entire generation of old fogies to die off before the new, more correct (really, less incorrect) paradigm becomes accepted (see the back story on plate tectonics for a great instance of this effect)). Any and all sources of knowledge were assembled by people and all people have biases and agendas. Sometimes it is difficult or impossible to glean the biases or agendas of the author(s), so it is best to get into the habit of not trusting any single source of data and to seek multiple sources for comparison. This is not immune from issues either, but the diversity helps to get an improved impression of the agreed state of the art.

Knowledge is generally considered more likely to be ‘true’ (note that there is no universal truth for anything, only increasingly accurate measurements of physical constants and events) when there is a strong preponderance of the evidence in support of the most widely held theory/hypothesis. Even there, sometimes scientists build theories they know are inadequate to cover _all_ observed events because they can explain a great deal with partial theories and no one has yet developed a more encompassing theory (the divergence between gravity at the large scale and quantum events at the tiny scale is a great example; each aspect has very detailed, well developed theories with great predictive value, yet can’t explain the events in the other aspect).

With this as background, on to my original ‘conversation’. When you want to learn about something encyclopedias (do they even print them any more) such as Wikipedia are great places to _start_, but since they are assembled by humans, they are inevitably biased and have agendas that might be difficult to discern. Even when the biases or agendas are obvious, the source might still be useful, as long as a firm grasp of the bias/agenda is kept in mind. So, when people tell you that Wikipedia is a terrible source of information because so much is wrong, keep in mind that there is nothing that is really better. Even when you drill down to primary literature there is no escaping bias, so anything built on such a foundation must remain suspect. Also, be sure to ask those complaining about Wikipedia what their preferred alternative is, their response will surely be revealing their biases and/or agendas.

So, what can it mean to ‘know’ something? In school you are taught all sorts of things are ‘facts’ and not subject to dispute. At a young age it is almost impossible to get into the philosophy of life, the universe and everything, you simply lack the depth and breadth of knowledge to have meaningful discussions. So, at an early age it is almost a requirement that you accept what you are told as ‘truth’. For instance, 2+2 is nearly universally accepted to be 4 (in the numbering systems that support enough digits, of course); though there are bizarre edge cases (for example: when measuring lines drawn on a curved surface). When you are young it is best to ignore those edge cases or you might never learn anything because you spend so much time discussing the edge cases (the number of edge cases can, in principle, be infinite). Generally speaking most ‘facts’ are ‘true’ for the vast majority of the cases (say, 99.9% or better), so statistically speaking these ‘facts’ are, indeed, ‘true’. Some people never seem to acknowledge that ‘facts’ are not ‘true’ except in a broad sense and that those who assemble ‘facts’ and deem them ‘true’ inevitably have bias and agendas. I am hoping you can grow up to be the sort of person who realizes that while you can rely on commonly accepted ‘facts’ as being ‘true’ most of the time, some of the time (perhaps a very small amount of time!) these commonly held ideas/concepts are just plain wrong. I am hoping you will grow up to be curious about edge cases (in whatever excites you) and want to develop better, more encompassing, theories about life, the universe and everything. I find learning that I am wrong, while sometimes painful and frustrating, is more interesting in the long run because with better understanding of knowledge brings increased opportunities.

Systems engineering

Goals vs. Systems

This is another interesting article from Mr. Dilbert. I suggest my reader(s) take a look, but for this post it was more or less a trigger and my post won’t focus too much on it. When I was quite young (probably 11 or 12) I gave a lot of thought about what I wanted to do with my life (actually, it wasn’t as portentous as that, I think about long-range things all the time; I thought about building a house for nigh on 3 decades before it finally happened). I felt that if I set easy to reach goals I would quickly reach them and then be left with nothing. I decided then to set my goals so astronomical (it wound up being literal) that it would take essentially forever to realize them, thus I would never be left with “what’s next”. To give you a scale for judging ‘astronomical’, my ‘reasonable’ unreasonable goal is to build space stations in the Lagrange points fore and aft the moon. You know, something modest that holds a few hundred thousand people. Sadly (or laughingly, depending on my mood), I have made no measurable progress toward achieving those goals. However, whenever any opportunity arises (I firmly believe that people are ‘lucky’ all the time (see here for some of my ideas) and simply lack the wit to realize) I always measure them against my long-term (‘reasonable’, keep that in mind) goal. When I evaluate the potential of a business opportunity it is always along the lines of ‘can it scale far enough and fast enough to make it worth the intense effort needed (I am quite cognizant of the 100+ hours per week a business startup requires for success). If I don’t feel that effort is likely to be rewarded I wait to see what the next one brings along.

Because of my lofty goals my calculus has had me sidestep or ignore quite a few opportunities over the years, opportunities that no doubt could have been grown into very nice little businesses that might have brought in millions or more a year. Because my goals are so lofty (I was going to use ‘ridiculous’, so I guess you can guess where my state of mind is at present) I am extremely risk seeking (in business; I still have no interest in jumping out of perfectly good planes). Because high reward almost always comes with high risk (unless you are a banker in our f-ed up world today where you can make astronomical rewards by destroying the world’s economy, then get bonuses for your effort), since I seek high rewards, in order to have the resources to accomplish my goals, naturally my approach is extremely high risk as well. High risk, by definition, means low probability of success, so I invest a lot of time and effort into projects that statistically speaking are highly likely to fail. I made this decision decades ago because it is clear to me that doing the same thing that everyone else is doing is never going to be high reward. One of the reasons I am attracted to the world of invention is that in our current world’s economy having a patent on a (desirable) product means you have monopoly powers and can have elevated margins in spite of the markets efforts to drive you down to the typical 20% after tax margins (so when you see a company making margins higher than that you know something interesting is going on). In order for me to afford the billions (lots of billions!) to build space stations I need big fat margins, margins way larger than the marketplace will normally allow. That is the main reason for my somewhat single minded obsession with inventing new things and trying to commercialize them (well, I am inventive, but I seldom invest energy in going from idea to reality unless I think there is a huge market for it).

I also know in the world of invention that all are not created equal. Indeed, the vast majority of patented ideas are worth less than the paper they are printed on, so though I have explored the mechanics of patenting over the years I have never felt any motivation to file for one until recently (relatively, it has been nearly a year now since the process started): my DNA sequencing idea. Looking back at that post I was so optimistic that it would be different this time (I tried to find investors back in ’08 with zero luck), but reality has reared its ugly head, yet again, and the long odds have stretched its hand out and relegated this to the dust bin of history (not even a footnote!). It turns out there is a company called Pacific Biosciences that has a functionally identical product (technically quite different, though) that it already has in the markplace (unlike my earlier mentioned ‘competitor’ (can’t really call them a competitor if I don’t have a product, eh?) which has been promising a commercial product for the last several years), is well funded (more than $100 million) and is actually generating millions in revenue each quarter. Since I was not getting any interest from investors before I found out about this product I can’t imagine suddenly I will get interest now. While it might be possible to still get interest in the patent, if it is granted as written (meaning the claims aren’t narrowed to uselessness), I have pretty much given up any thought on it.

I, of course, have a long laundry list of other ideas that I may or may not invest energy in. As I believe I bored you with a number of times before, I am slowly working toward making a commercial effort out of aquaponics (see here for what I think the potential is) and according to my nice pretty spread sheets this has as much or more potential as the DNA sequencing idea has/had, though there is more work and less protection from competitors (meaning managing the growth becomes critical; fortunately I expected to care about that and spent a lot of time focusing on that in my MBA education). I won’t bore you with other ideas (I have mentioned several here off and on), but they also depend on long odds. Recently I have been thinking about how much longer to beat this dead horse and when to give up on my lofty (astronomical (ridiculous)) goals.

It might be possible to get some of my interests in space satisfied by doing my own exploration. Years ago (over a decade now) I spent a lot of effort on an ‘atmospheric satellite’ idea. The idea is to build a huge light-weight plane that can fly at extremely high altitude (not as crazy at it might sound, really, the technology is from back in the 50’s and 60’s), say around 20 miles (100K feet) well above almost all the weather and nearly all the moisture, making it a nearly unbeatable location for stargazing (and telecommunications, my original business intent to pay for my stargazing). The wrinkle then becomes how to make a huge (I am talking football field sized planes, doanchano) mirror that is light enough to fly up there. There are approaches for doing so (I will avoid boring you with these) and I believe it is feasible to investigate that in my post space station life. There is also the idea of micro-satellites where the costs can be dramatically lower (but still likely to be more than I can convince my wife to cover). I believe there are enough things that are affordable that can indulge my interests in space, but I don’t see any of them making enough money to even pay the bills, let alone leading to space stations (unless they are for fleas ;-)).

It has been a rough last couple of years; giving up on long-held dreams is not easy. I worry about becoming a bitter old man who rails against the world (well, more than I already do). Not a very good role model for my boy and not a very good husband for my wife (nor, I suspect, a great child to my mom either). I lack the capacity to grok the math that might allow me to invent ‘warp drive’, so to get to space on my own will require either ‘winning the lottery’ (i.e., one of my ideas (e.g., DNA sequencing, aquaponics, etc.) pay off) or dramatically narrowing what ‘get to space’ means. Telepresence has taken such huge leaps forward lately that I suspect that putting little micro remote controlled lunar landers (say, sugar cube sized (do they still make sugar cubes?)) could allow for exploration but in the hands of ordinary people. Do we really _need_ to put people in space (other than diversifying our race locations so we can avoid going extinct with a single event here on Earth)? If we can knock off a bunch of zeros on the price then it becomes practical for ordinary people to get involved and suddenly, the market I have been focused on springs into existence, just in a very different way than I had anticipated. Who knows? Perhaps in the long run my ‘failure’ will still lead to success.

At least that is what I tell myself to try to keep from sinking into depression and becoming that bitter old man.

Equality for few and justice for none

Why Robert Reich Cares so Passionately about Economic Inequality

An interesting interview about our current failure to foster any sort of efforts toward remedying income inequality. According to the interviewee, we have had periods in the past where inequality was high, like today, and then we reversed course, so perhaps we can do so again. Sadly, I can’t get optimistic about the prospects, but then again, I was wrong when I was sure our f-ed up government would fail to keep the lights on last night (though they merely kicked the can down the road a couple of months).

I would love to be wrong about the looming apocalypse (see here for an example), gleefully wrong. I am happy to have my pessimism proven to be unwarranted. I just can’t make my brain believe that the sheeple will suddenly start to vote in society’s best interests (which often (though not always) go against _individual_ best interests). Maybe this govt shutdown will lead more people to vote in primaries and drag politicians back to the middle. I think it will be the opposite, though, but time will tell…