Archive for the ‘Blogging, Computers & the Internet’ Category.

My New Favorite Excel Function: INDIRECT

I will confess that somehow I never really learned pivot table mechanics in Excel, so I struggle with three dimensional data.  One example might be a spreadsheet with individual tabs where each tab is a different corporate division, and on each tab is a P&L by month (so three dimensions:  Month, P&L category, Division).  Let's assume the P&L is arranged the same on every page, with, for example, one divisions June's total revenue number in the same cell number as the June total revenue number on every other divisions' tab, ie this field is in cell c8 on every worksheet tab.

Long ago I created a simple way to get a total of a particular cell across all spreadsheets.  I would add a spreadsheet tab in the workbook before all the division tabs and another after all the division tabs.  Let's say I just name these tabs "Posta" and "Postb".  Then the sum of all cells C8 that are located on a spreadsheet tab between tabs "Posta" and "Postb" would be

=SUM(Posta:Postb!C8).

The problem comes when one wants to create a summary worksheet tab that doesn't sum all the values for C8 but summarizes them in a table.  Imagine a table where column A is the division name (that matches the name of the tab for that division) and column B is that division's June revenue, ie the value of cell C8 for that division from its individual spreadsheet.  The only way I knew how to do this before was manually and tediously.

But laziness is the mother of invention, and I finally encountered a workbook that was so tedious to summarize manually that I had to find another way.  I had a spreadsheet of 150 tabs, each worksheet tab being one of our locations containing online customer review scores formatted the same way into the same cells.  That is when I found the INDIRECT function.  Basically it allows one to craft a custom cell reference in a text string, feed that to the indirect function, which will output the contents of that cell.  So if our location names in the first column exactly match the worksheet tab names, then we can write

=INDIRECT("'"&$A3&"'"&"!C$8")

The ampersand symbols are basically text string concatenation operators, and are there to create the text string of a cell reference in the format excel expects.  The funny triple quotes is just to add a single quote mark before and after the tab name.   This particular string will give us the value of cell C8 that is in the worksheet tab with the name that is in cell A3.

You can also use this cell value from the INDIRECT function in more complicated formulas.  For example

=COUNTIF( INDIRECT("'"&$A3&"'"&"!$B$3:$B$500"),D$4)

would look in the spreadsheet tab whose name is in A3 and on that tab count all the values in the range B3 to B500 on that tab that have the value given in cell D4.  For example, if D4 is equal to "5" we could be counting all the reviews that had a score of "5".

Postscript:  This may be my record for the blog post with the niche-iest audience.  Mainly it is aimed at my son, who has the enviable job of being an analyst for a craft beer company in La Jolla.  He has learned not to complain much to me about his job, as my first job was in an oil refinery in Baytown, Texas, so my sympathy level is maybe lower than it should be.  Anyway, as part of a geeky family, he and I compete on Excel knowledge so this post is mainly my way of counting coup on him.

I Have Deleted My Twitter App. It's An Impossible Platform for Political Discourse (at Least For Me)

Those who have read this blog for a while know that I have an up and down history with Twitter.  I think it is a perfectly valid platform for sharing breaking news, following celebrities, posting cute animal pictures, and notifying folks that blog posts or longer articles are available.  I have always used Twitter for the latter function, and for those who follow me there, I will still use it to automatically publicize my blog posts.

From time to time, though, I have dived deeper into Twitter and tried to use it to actually have conversations and discussions about certain topics.  The first time I tried this I had to get off after a month.  I reported here that Twitter was making me both unhappy and a worse person, the latter because I fell quickly into the Twitter trap of going for zingers and gotchas rather than treating people's arguments civilly and with nuance.  A few days ago I gave it one more try, perhaps unfortunately the day after Trump's state of the union.  In the process I came to a final conclusion that Twitter is an impossible platform for political discourse, at least for me.  I am open to considering that the failure is in part my own, that I am simply incapable of making the kind of arguments I want to make within the Twitter character limit.   Never-the-less, I have deleted my twitter app from my phone so I will not be tempted to dive back in when I am stuck in the doctor's waiting room.  I will still scan it to see what is going on, but if I want to respond to something, I will do it here.

Just for fun, I thought I would dig through the detritus of my last 48 hours on Twitter and see if I could pull up a few examples of just what drove me crazy.  I want to make it clear that I am not leaving because people *gasp* disagreed with me, but because that disagreement was embodied in really poor discourse, the poverty of which I think is necesarily related to the nature of the platform.  After considering several, here is a good example of why I left.

It started with my seeing this post in my feed from a guy named Nick Searcy.  I don't really know who that is, but he is not just some rando with 8 followers, he has almost two orders of magnitude more followers than I.  He wrote:


While there are some solid arguments for why truly open borders might not work in today's USA, I have always considered this analogy of a country's borders to private property boundaries to be a really weak argument.  Not only weak, but one that dangerously undermines the meaning of private property and makes it harder to defend the property rights that Conservatives say they support.   I actually wrote hundreds of words on this argument here, so you can probably guess I struggled to respond to this in one tweet.  I tweeted:

(lol, the unmentioned problem I also have with Twitter is the inability to edit after the fact.  In a socialist ... what?  Dammit Coyote, learn to self-edit)

So I will confess the property rights argument is a subtle one for most people, and a difficult one to make in part because even strong defenders of property rights often don't have a very clear understanding of them.  The picture I think many property rights defenders have in their head is the old coot sitting on his front porch with a shotgun across his lap yelling "get off my land."  But for property rights to be meaningful, one needs to not only be able to protect the borders of that property but also hire whom they like to work on their property, sell to whom they like, rent to whom they like, entertain whom they like, etc.  Its not just about one's ability to exclude people, but also one's ability to associate with people of one's choice.

Now, I can imagine a number of reasonable rebuttals.  Someone might argue that this is all fine and good when 100 people want to come and seek a job from folks like me, but what if the number is a billion?   Anyway, we could have an interesting discussion along those lines.  But instead I got this:

Uh, what?  This makes about zero sense in context.  He was criticizing a open border policy, which would represent a change in current law.  I offered a partial defense of open borders and why I thought his property rights analogy for border restrictions was a bad analogy.  And so he answers "because laws".  Honestly, this may be my failing, but I really did not understand how laws were the reason we could not change immigration laws (he may have an implicit assumption that immigrants are dangerous and laws are thus necessary to protect us from them, but if this is his core assumption driving this comment it goes entirely unstated).   So I assumed I had not explained myself well, and made the mistake of trying to clarify my point (instead of just walking away as I should have).  I will confess that the 40+ likes he got for a tweet which was true on its face but made zero sense in context influenced my decisions to try again.  Perhaps if I clarified, so would he, so I tweeted:

 

And here you go, the payoff for reading so far into this post, the true WTF moment of the thread

and here, because repetition using slightly different insults just reinforces the point

I am not even sure how to parse this.  More than even the statement itself, the 60 likes and 4 retweets just sort of floored me.  "Yeah, Nick, you showed that guy!"  Anyway, I assume what is going on here is that rather than understand my actual argument, he assigned to me the same package of both real and straw man arguments Conservatives assign to all immigration supporters and then started arguing some of those, rather than the actual issue we were arguing.   Anyway, just to make sure I had the full Twitter experience in this thread we had an appearance by the super Internet sleuth who has figured it all out:

lol, nice job.  The few folks who were reading my blog at the beginning -- which had its first post in 2004 a full 18 months before the first tweet on Twitter -- will know the blog is named after the Warner Brothers animation character, who in my mind should be one of the patron saints of small business owners -- he works his *ss off to achieve a goal and something unexpected screws his quest up every time.

Anyway, I guess I should make clear that my position on Twitter is roughly the same as it is on incentives.  In the case of incentives, bad organizations don't have bad people, they have ordinary average people with bad incentives.   As far as Twitter goes, I am more than willing to believe that, despite what he thinks of me, that Nick Searcy is not a dolt or a loser.  He is likely a reasonably smart guy on a platform that turns everyone on it into morons and *ssholes.

So I will use twitter to publish so people can find my articles in their feed there, and I will look at it from time to time if I need a blogging topic, but otherwise I am going to limit my discourse to places I can write in long form.

Postscript: OK, I figured out who this guy is.  I have not seen him in a lot of things but he played Deke Slayton in the HBO mini-series From the Earth to the Moon and that entire series, including his contribution, was excellent.  I give him kudos as an (apparently) vocal Conservative in the entertainment world, as I think the constant drumbeat of unthinking Leftism in that industry tends to cause most of the Conservatives to just go into turtle mode to protect their careers and sanity.   Still don't agree with him on immigration.

Am I The Only One Who Finds This Paul Krugman Tweet Weirdly Ironic?

Maybe one character could be an economist who entered the world of political punditry and subsequently walked away from many of his earlier economic beliefs when they conflicted with his party loyalty.

e.g. here, here

Postscript:  By the way, my first Venn diagram, which Mark Perry has credited as the inspiration for what he has since turned into an art form, involved Mr. Krugman:

Auto-Post to Twitter Has Been Broken. Deluge of Tweets of Old Posts in the Queue May Follow

For some reason, over the last 30 days auto-posting my blog to Twitter has not been working, so for those of you who follow the blog via Twitter, you may not have seen much going on. Hopefully that is fixed.

First, and Last, Marathon

About 18 months ago I was diagnosed with osteo-arthritis in both my knees, though of course I had been experiencing some pain before that.  The condition has become increasingly irritating not just because of the knee pain, but because the pain leads to a second condition called a Bakers Cyst (also known as water on the knee) that adds new pains in the back of both my upper and lower legs.

For years my exercise of choice has been running.  I have run in many of the world's cities (except for Bangkok -- only a crazy person would run the streets there) and find the experience synergistic -- the new sights keeps me from being bored in my runs and the running helps me see details of a city I might have missed.  I am not really competitive, but I have run four or five half-marathons and a number of shorter races.

It has become clear I have to give this all up.  So I decided to go out with a bang, and run my first and last marathon, which will be January 7 at Disneyworld (I love the Disney marathons because the vibe is pretty chill, there are lots of fun things to look at as you run through the parks and past characters and bands, and the medals are really nice).  I usually run in costume for the Disney races but I think not for this race -- I will be shedding every pound;  I am considering cutting off the ends of my shoelaces to save weight 😉

The big event comes in the next few weeks when my doctor is going to shoot me up with cortisone in each knee and drain my Bakers cysts.  From past experience, this will help a ton.  Even without the cortisone I have done a couple of 16-18 mile runs in addition to my daily running of 6-ish miles so I am fairly sure I will make it.

The first question I always get is what time am I shooting for.  Timing for my distance race performances is generally by google calendar.   I did my last half in around 2:30 so extrapolating that I will likely be far behind Oprah's time of 4:29, but I think my ego can survive.

Once the race is over, I have already found my new preferred form of excercise.  The eliptical machine feels good with my knees but I hate excercising indoors.  Biking can be fun but my *ss always falls asleep.  So I bought one of these bad boys and am already having a lot of fun with it.  Super expensive, but hopefully prices will come down if they get popular.

Microsoft is Not My Friend Today

I am working with Dell to create a starting computer image for laptops I buy from them that will have all our computers set up the way we want them to be right out of the factory.  This will save an hour or so of work for me on each computer.

This works really well EXCEPT for Microsoft's heavy-handed intervention.   As part of the setup process before I create the default image, I switch the windows default browser to Chrome and the default app for opening pdf files to Adobe Reader.  No matter what we do, when the new computer boots up with this image, windows switches the default browser and PDF app to Microsoft Edge (apparently via 'sysprep".)  I might be able to live with this for the browser, but Edge is defective in opening PDF files, specifically it does not allow pdf's with form fields to be saved in a way that retains the form entry.  My users will never be able to figure out how to reset this themselves so now I have to figure out how to write batch files so I can override the Microsoft override after it runs.  Less intrusive but still irritating is the fact that Microsoft also adds back all their sales spam I deleted, including their "get office" and "try skype" apps.

As an aside, it is really sort of funny nowadays to put Chrome or Firefox on a new Microsoft computer.   If you try to make these other browsers the default, you get this message that says something like "wouldn't you like to try Edge, it is way better than our old browser that we tried for years and years to make you use and then abandoned."  I am paraphrasing of course, but that is the gist.

Craigslist Has Become A Total Sewer of Scammers

I know the title of this post will come as a surprise to virtually no one.  I gave up on Craigslist years ago.  However, I had no idea how bad it has become.  My contractor had some left over materials.  My wife and I said to just drop it off at Habitat for Humanity but the contractor said they thought I could sell some of it for real money.  So the contractor listed it on Craigslist.  I so far have gotten 8 responses, and all 8 have turned out to be scams.  They are all variations of this theme:

i really appreciate your quick response to my text. I will be buying
the item from you, kindly withdraw the advert from C.LIST and
considered it sold. My husband will be overnight the payment asap but
he will be payingwith a certified check from his Bank and it will
deliver to you via United Parcel Service (UPS), so I'll need you to
provide me with the following information to facilitate the mailing of
the check... And am offering additional $50 with the original price to
have this asap. Name to be on the payment......Address to mail the check to.....
Cell phone # to contact you ......Final Asking price....

I will make arrangements for the pick up as soon as you have your
check clear, due to my work frame and my Kids, I will not be able to
come with the cash and pick it up myself , so my husband will mail the
check and have someone pick up the item after the check clear.,
Reference to your CL post am completely satisfied with it and the
payment will be deliver within 24hours.

Any reply will yield bot or script responses that make little sense.  For example I said:

Ok, I now believe this to be fake as I have gotten the same response word for word with the 50 dollars offer from multiple people.  This sale is cancelled.

The response was:

Thanks , I got the Details and the payment will be sent out tomorrow
and as soon as it sent out i will get back to you, Please keep the
other buyer off and the payment will get to you asap and the item will
be pick up after you have the payment

Apparently bots and Asian click factories send a trolling response to every sale on Craigslist nowadays.   I left a telephone number only in the ad (a burner cell phone thank goodness) and in turn I got urges to immediately email them back.  And then this script with small variations 8 times, but always with the certified check thing, the offer of $50, and an urge to take down the ad immediately.  Apparently the check is fake but you learn this only after you have shipped the goods.  Sites like this urge face to face meetings in cash, but I have little desire to meet Craigslist readers face to face, which is confirmed by the advice in this article to "meet the buyer in a police station" lol.  Might as well post the advice never to use craigslist.

If it has not already been written, this is the epitaph in my mind for Craigslist.  Possible moral of this story:  You can't build a trust-based system just by trusting people.  The lesson from places like Amazon and ebay are "trust but verify".

Update:  From commenters, part of our mistake seems to be to have let a third party put up the add because then we lose out on some of the internal Craigslist communication avenues that provide some protection.  A number feel like Craigslist is still a useful place to transact.  I will add that in addition to 8 cashiers check scammers I also got one paypal scammer later in the evening making contact.  Zero legitimate contacts to date.

I Am Still Here

I have been out of town and absolutely consumed by a couple of very weird business issues, so I have not blogged much.  I will try to do a little today, but I will leave you with a quote I liked from Scott Sumner:

Or perhaps (as I've argued elsewhere) there is no such thing as "public opinion". People are like electrons; you can't measure them without changing their positions. ....Most people don't have views that are internally consistent, so their "views" on public policy issues are strongly shaped by the wording of the polls.

I Think I Figured Out My Wireless Issues -- I Am Living in a Damn Faraday Cage

I have always had a couple of frustrations in my house.   First, we get awful, almost non-existent cell service from both Verizon and AT&T, despite living right in the middle of the city.  I always chalked this up to be on the outskirts of an area of town that until recently did not allow the construction of cell towers.

The other problem I have is trying to get a wireless signal through my house.  While the house sort of sprawls, it is U shaped with distances such that it should not be impossible to send signals from one side of the U to the other.   But it always has been hard, thus my investment in a commercial grade wifi system.

The other day I was watching a contractor cut a hole in the outer wall of my house, which is covered in stucco.  I hadn't really thought much about the home's construction -- it has some cinder block but mostly is just wood frame.  But watching the construction I had an epiphany.  The stucco was put on in the old way, over chicken wire.   I hadn't thought of this because none of the new stucco I have ever seen going on is done this way any more.   It turns out my whole house is covered in a big net of chicken wire.  Worse, I saw they had removed the stucco around one of the hose bibs and the chicken wire was wrapped around the metal piping, the same piping our house uses as a ground.  My whole house turns out to be covered in grounded chicken wire -- I'm living in a Faraday cage!

Obviously since the wire does not cover every surface (windows, roof, etc) and was not carefully constructed to be a Faraday cage, the effect is not perfect.  But I took some measurements.  Wifi signal strengths in the 2.4Ghz range dropped by about 7-10 db when passing through an interior wall but dropped between 20 and 30 db through my exterior walls.

So at least I have some idea, finally, of what might be going on.

Towards Better, More Reliable Home Wifi -- Ditch the Products Meant for the Home

For years I have been struggling with a variety of commercial home wifi products.  I have been plagued by issues -- either they had poor range or they had to be reset every day or so or they did not play well with various extenders I needed to cover my house.  I have a one story house that sort of sprawls all over the place and is hard to cover, particularly since our internet connection to Cox Cable is all the way at one end of the house and some of the house has a cinderblock core just to make signal transmission even harder.

So my company had a contractor wiring up a customer location we manage and they were using a commercial product from Ubiquiti Networks.  I wondered why a commercial product would not work just as well in my home.  This Ars Technica article discussed how much better he thought the commercial products from Ubiquiti were than most consumer grade products.  I figured maybe the problem would be cost, but perusing the Unifi product line on Amazon, it seemed priced a bit higher than consumer products but not unreasonably so (also compare the Amazon star ratings for the Unifi products to consumer alternatives -- you will not see ratings this high).

I was a little intimidated that the setup would be hard but it was manageable if you know even a little bit about network addresses and how they work. And this video is absolutely fabulous -- I can tell you that if you follow along with this guy your system will work at the end of it.  Once it was running, the software is way easier to navigate than my old consumer products.

So several months ago I installed a Unifi system in my house with 6 access points (including on my patio and in my garage), a security gateway (the router, I think), a main switch, a couple of satellite switches, and the cloudkey which helps manage the whole thing.  I paid extra for the PoE switches (power over ethernet) so I could run the access points without having to plug them into an outlet and so in the future I could add PoE video.

What I like:

  • Reasonable cost
  • Setup not difficult if you follow the video
  • Rock-solid reliability
  • It reaches everywhere, with a single SSID so it acts as one seamless large wifi zone.
  • Ability to access the system remotely to check on status
  • Access points work via PoE so they mount on the wall or ceiling really cleanly and look great
  • Really good information about my network, not only every device and its IP and status, but also its bandwidth use and exactly how it is connected in the network tree (ie via such and such switch).

The only problem I have had so far is a moderately arcane one that took me a while to diagnose.  I use this system with my Sonos music system and I have a number of Sonos boxes around the house.  Most of these are wired, and so do not use the Sonos wired peer-to-peer mesh.  However, the Sonos boxes were trying to create wireless network amongst themselves that essentially created loops in my network where storms of traffic ran in circles.

This is where I had a learning opportunity.  Apparently network equipment has something called Spanning Tree Protocol (STP).  Basically through a priority and cost system, it allows you to specify preferred pathways and prevent data from looping.  But Sonos uses a really old version of this that does not play well with Unifi.  I will say that this is not just a Unifi problem as I had this exact same problem at another location with Sonos and the Google mesh wifi system.  At least with Unifi, there were STP settings I could play with (Google mesh wifi is a nice little plug and play product but forget it if you want to tweak anything at all).   As is usual nowadays for any known problem, the Internet has a bunch of articles on Unifi and Sonos compatibility issues.  Eventually by tweaking the STP priorities of the Unifi switches and simply turning off the wifi in Sonos units where I did not need the mesh wifi capability (a nearly undocumented feature that is revealed here) I got it all playing nice together.   I will add that though Sonos is a product I love (because my wife can actually reliably use it), their tech support never identified this problem -- they said they saw evidence of loops but would not admit that the Sonos peer-to-peer networking was helping to cause them.

Weirdly Desperate Publicity Plea from Elon Musk?

I found this email to be simply bizarre.   If this is anything more than odd PR, I am not sure I understand it (the links are what they claim to be, rather than some sort of Phishing).  It clearly is a bot because no human would have actually read the article and thought that Elon Musk would really like me to better tie my article on his rent-seeking to his other PR.  Anyone know what is going on here?  I can't believe that Internet billionaire Elon Musk is paying Flip Hosting for some sort of crappy SEO work based on Google link-based page-rank schemes that are several years out of date.

 

Fixed The Site Performance Problem, I Hope

For reasons I do not fully understand because I really must not fully grasp how CSS works, the white background of the site loads last.  Some of you found the site hard to read because there was a small bit of code, really ancient site meter sort of code from 15 years ago, that was broken and slowing the white background from loading.  I think it is fixed.  Thanks to the readers who let me know.

Thank You

I don't think I was effusive enough in my previous post in thanking everyone who left such nice comments and/or sent me the great emails.  I really appreciate all the support and it makes a big difference.  Happy Fathers Day.  I am spending mine on the road for business, but in the outdoor recreation business there is no such day as a holiday during the summer time.

My New Rules

Well, I guess it should be obvious that I have not totally given up blogging.  I thank everyone for the nice emails and the nice comments.

However, I am going to try some new rules for the next month, less on my blogging and more on how I engage with the news.

  1. No more Twitter.  For those of you who use Twitter as a news aggregator, my posts will still appear on twitter and from time to time I will post things there that fit on twitter better than in a full blog post.  But I am not going to read my feed, and I am really not going to engage with things in my feed.  Everyone is trying to piss me off, and worse, a few times they have been successful and I have posted juvenile retorts that I later regretted.  I am going to keep a Civ 6 game on my computer and every time I am even tempted to open twitter I will play a couple of turns of Civ 6, worrying instead how to keep Gandhi from nuking me again.  Ironically, I just today ticked over 1000 followers on Twitter, so thanks very much for the support, but if you tweet at me over the next month I won't see it.
  2. Paring down my RSS feed.  I have read partisan political blogs on both sides of the aisle for years.  In fact it has been a point of pride that I read from both sides.  But these folks are all crazy, all the more so because they waste so many electrons arguing their side is sane and the other is crazy.  Everyone on these blogs is trying to just make me angry or afraid.  I am not going to play.  I can get angry and afraid all by myself.  All the political blogs are going out the window for the next month.  The more polemical climate blogs are going out.  Anyone who uses the words "Comey" or "Russia" or "Impeach" or "Benghazi"  in two out of three posts is gone.  Unfortunately, this means, at least for this month, that I cast off Instapundit as well, which is hard for me because Professor Reynolds really gave me my first traffic and helped promote my book.
  3. I have been reading the same stuff for years.  Over time I need to find some like-minded folks interested in discussing policy while still capable of assuming that folks who disagree with them may actually be people of good will.  But I don't want to spend my time in full wonk mode either.  I will call Megan McArdle my benchmark of what I am looking for, and I am accepting recommendations for folks Left and Right of her to read.  Kevin Drum for example on the Left was pretty good on this dimension when his guys were in office but he is much more in team politics mode now (Mother Jones banning me didn't help, particularly since they banned me for referring to the "NRA" in a comment -- particularly funny since I was referring to FDR's National Industrial Recovery Act and not to the much-hated-by-progressives National Rifle Association).

My wife never reads my blog and probably is not too in touch with my existential blogging angst of late, but out of the blue the other day she suggested it would be fun to set up a salon where we could bring together folks across the political spectrum to have discussions of issues of the day.  I thought this was a great idea and have been thinking about how to pull this off.  Unlike what seems to be fashionable today, we actually have friends across the political spectrum -- something that has been easy considering one of our families consists of Massachusetts Progressives (from Antioch, no less!) one is of Texas Conservatives (with oil company executives, no less!).  Our families always got along great but I worry that a few of my friends my be at each others' throats if we have them talking politics in the same room.  So we have to figure out how to discuss policy, not politics.

Thinking About Checking Out of Blogging

I am not sure I am able to continue blogging in the current environment.  When I began blogging over 12 years ago, it was to report on my various adventures in trying to run a small business.  It soon morphed into a platform for me to think out loud about various policy issues.  For example, while I didn't really understand this when I started, it became a platform for me to think through mistakes I made in my initial enthusiasm for the Iraq War.  You can see me in the early years evolve from a kind of knee-jerk global warming absolute denier to a lukewarmer with much more understanding of the underlying science.  I think of myself as an intellectual (though one who cannot spell or proof-read) who likes to discuss policy.

But I am not sure this is the time for that.  The world seems to be moving away from intellectualism.  I say this not because Trump voters were somehow rejecting intellectualism, but because intellectuals themselves seem to be rejecting it.  They act like children, they are turning universities into totalitarian monoculters, and they compete with each other to craft mindless 140-character "gotchas" on Twitter.  I challenge you to even find a forum today for intellectual exchange between people who disagree with one another.  In politics, Trump clearly rejects intellectualism but for whatever reasons, the Democratic opposition has as well.

We have a tribal war going on in this country that has officially gone beyond any real policy issues.  While the US and the Soviet Union had real differences in philosophy and approach, most of their confrontations were in proxy wars which bore little resemblance to these values.  That is what politics are now -- a series of proxy wars.  We spend several days focusing attention on Jeff Sessions, but spend pretty much zero time talking about real issues like approaches to the drug war, and police accountability, and sentencing reform.  Instead all we can focus on is the political proxy war of this stupid Russia hacking story.   Obama's birth certificate and Hillary's servers and Russian hacking and Trump's real estate sales -- all we fight are proxy wars.

And like most tribal warfare, the two tribes are incredibly similar.  I have called them the Coke and Pepsi party for years.  Go talk to the the rank and file and sure, one group may like Nascar and barbecue while the other likes Phish concerts and kale, but you will see them asking for the same sorts of things out of government.   Take the minimum wage, a traditional blue tribe issue.  In Arizona, a heavily red state (we have a super-majority in the legislature of the red team), a $10 minimum wage referendum passed by nearly 60% of the vote last year.  The members of the two tribes absolutely hate each other, but they support the same laws.  I guess I should be happy they don't get together, since as a libertarian I think many of these things they want are bad ideas.

People tell me I need to just deal with the adversity.  But I don't mind opposition per se.  I love when I get a chance to respond to real criticism.  Hell, I wrote 5000 words or so here in response to such criticism.  It's fun.  But more likely nowadays I will write a couple thousand words on school choice and the response will be, in total, "Your a Trump cuckservative."  Several years ago I wrote a long article on rail in response to a Joel Epstein piece.  Epstein had argued the US rail rail system was inferior to those in Europe and Asia because we don't have enough passenger rail.  I argued with a series of charts and analysis that the US rail system was superior because it focused on freight over passengers, and that shifting freight to rail had far more environmental benefits than shifting passengers to rail.  Epstein's entire response to my article was, "You should get out of the country more often."  This is the classic intellectual argument of our day.  It was smug.  It implied my article was based on being part of the wrong tribe, the narrow-minded denizens of flyover country rather than the coastal set that have been to Gstaad but not Tulsa.  At it did not even bother addressing the issues raised.

Or look at Black Lives Matter.  BLM actually had what looked to me to be the outlines of a pretty good plan.  To really achieve their goals, though, was going to take a lot of work jurisdiction by jurisdiction, establishing some model legislation and best practices and bringing it to various municipalities.  It didn't even try.  It abandoned this plan in favor of just disrupting sh*t and shaming the unwoke for saying that "all lives matter."  Today, invocations of BLM consist pretty much 100% of virtue signalling for one's own tribe or shaming of the other tribe.  Its the equivalent of dueling fans at a game yelling "Yankees suck!" "No, Red Sox suck!"

People also tell me to just deal with it, that if I love the policy stuff I should ignore these problems.  But let me give you an analogy.  Let's say you absolutely love English Premier League football, but every time you try to go to a game, you miss most of what happens on the field because hooligans are fighting around you in the stands.  Do you keep going for your love of football or at some point is the mess that surrounds it just too much?

Anyway, I am highly tempted just to say "screw it" for a while and focus on something else entirely.  I am trying a different approach as a change of pace, trying to write a more formal policy piece for a think tank, but I am having a surprising amount of trouble doing it well.  Writing such pieces was not really my forte at McKinsey when I was a consultant and I am not sure it is now.  Not disciplined enough in my writing, I think.

Anyway, on a positive front, I now have a dedicated (though very small) room for my model railroad and I installed the first bit of benchwork.  This is sort of like laying the keel for a new ship.  Coyoteblog readers, I know, will be hanging on the edges of their seats for further updates.

From Parks and Recreation:

Jean-Ralphio: Why don’t you use that time to go after one of your passions? Like model trains, or toy Gandalfs or something.

Ben: I don’t know why you jumped straight to model trains. I mean, it’s accurate…

Things I Did Not Know - Periods and Plusses in Gmail Addresses

I often have to explain to folks that email addresses are not case sensitive.  But I confess I never knew this (applicable only to Gmail I think, other systems are different)

I recently discovered some little-known ways to use your Gmail address that can give you greater control over your inbox and save you some time and headache. When you choose a Gmail address, you actually get more than just "yourusername@gmail.com." Here are two different ways you can modify your Gmail address and still get your mail:

  • Append a plus ("+") sign and any combination of words or numbers after your email address. For example, if your name was hikingfan@gmail.com, you could send mail to hikingfan+friends@gmail.com or hikingfan+mailinglists@gmail.com.
  • Insert one or several dots (".") anywhere in your email address. Gmail doesn't recognize periods as characters in addresses -- we just ignore them. For example, you could tell people your address was hikingfan@gmail.com, hiking.fan@gmail.com or hi.kin.g.fan@gmail.com. (We understand that there has been some confusion about this in the past, but to settle it once and for all, you can indeed receive mail at all the variations with dots.)

For me, the real value in being able to manipulate your email address is that it makes it really easy to filter on those variants. For example you could use hikingfan+bank@gmail.com when you sign up for online banking and then set up a filter to automatically star, archive or label emails addressed to hikingfan+bank. You can also use this when you register for a service and think they might share your information. For example, I added "+donation" when I gave money to a political organization once, and now when I see emails from other groups to that address, I know how they got it. Solution: filtered to auto-delete.

 

The 80's called....

CenturyLink, our telephone company in Florida, called and said that our listing in the telephone book was no longer free and that they would begin charging us $20 a month if we wanted to stay in.  LOL, I did not even know they made telephone books any more.  Back in the 1980's, when being in the phone book had value, the listing was free.  Now, when being in the book has zero value, they want to charge for it.

Quick Thanks to Mark Perry

I know Mark Perry reads this blog from time to time, so I thank him for not hammering me (specifically) in his annual grammar day post.  I actually do know all this stuff (and had a uselessly high score on my verbal SAT all those many years ago, though my kids claim it was a much easier test then) but I seem to be the worst proofreader in the world.

The Apple Marketing Machine

I am simply in awe of the Apple marketing machine, which has turned their tech product in to a quasi-cult.  The best illustration of this is the features being predicted and hyped for the 10th Anniversary iPhone.  The most common feature prediction is ... wireless charging.  Wireless charging is something I have had on not just my last but my last 2 android phones.   Apple was clearly the innovator who really invented the modern smartphone but for years they have been coasting on transferring features already proven in the android market and selling them at a premium to their loyal user base.

There are a lot of things to love about Apple products.  The worst thing about Android is the way individual handset makers clutter up the interface with their own (often inferior) user interface and bloatware.  Apple's walled garden is much more in control.  My last two phones have been a Nexxus (made by Google) and a Droid Turbo (also essentially made by Google) which avoided this third party BS, though I will say Samsung has gotten a lot better about this.

There are several things I think Android does better:

  • The cloud.  The cloud just seems to work so much better on Android.  It integrates with my Google drive.  Photo uploading to the cloud works logically.
  • Email.  The Apple email client sucks, so lots of Apple users use Gmail, but gmail and Apple seem to have an incompatibility every year or two.  Gmail and the google Calendar is always going to work with android.
  • Music.  I love my old 160 GB ipod.  In fact, I have a second one I bought before Apple discontinued them.  If you want your music to reside on your device, then Apple is way way better than Android.  When I travel, this is the way I go. But, if you are ok with streaming, Android is better.  For free I uploaded my 50,00o song library to Google, it sits on their servers, and I can stream any part of it any time on my android devices.
  • Kindle.  I read all my books nowadays on the Kindle.  Apple has banned book sales from the Kindle (ie when you finish part 1 and want to buy part 2).  Android apparently has not.

What the *Bleep* Happened to the Underline Button in the WordPress Editor?

For some reason, Wordoress has removed the underline button in the editor.  I can bold, and italicize, but not underline for some reason.  I have zero idea why there was such a burning need to eliminate this pretty basic feature of an editor.  I suppose I can go in an manually add in html codes, but why bother with an editor if I have to do that kind of cr*p.

Update:  There is a plugin to get it back.  The re-add and rearrange option it adds to the writing settings menu is the one I chose.  The underline button was always in a goofy spot and the re-arrange option puts it logically next to bold and italic.  Apparently, WordPress thought underlined text was confusing because users mistake it as a link, but I feel like my format I have adopted make the two pretty clearly different.  Also, I use wordpress as the engine for most of my business web sites, so we needed to be able to underline.

Fake News vs. Mischaracterized News

I wrote last week that I thought the whole "fake news" thing was just another excuse for censorship from the Left.  I think the problem in online political discourse is not so much with "fake news" but mis-characterized news -- ie the problem is not the news itself but the headline and spin that are layered on top of it.

From time to time I get absolutely inundated with comments on some post from folks who are not regular readers.  When I read these comments, my first question is, "did they even read the article?"  And you know what I have learned?  They did not.  Someone on some other web site has written some odd summary of what I have written, spun to fit whatever narrative they are pushing, and then sent folks to my site, who comment on the article as if that 3rd party summary was an accurate precis of the article, eliminating the need for anyone to actually read it.  The article I wrote years ago called the Teacher Salary Myth still to this day generates hostile comments and emails because the NEA and various other organizations love to link it with some scare summary like "this author is happy you can't afford to feed your family" and send 'em on over to troll.

Here is my experience from reading most partisan websites on both sides of the aisle:  the facts of an article linked, if you really read it, seldom match the headline that sent me over to it.  Here is an example I pick only because it is the most recent one in my news feed.  Apparently, according to blog headlines all over, a professor at Rutgers threatened on twitter to kill all white people and was thus dragged off to well-deserved psych evaluation.   The Breitbart headline, for example, was:  "Rutgers University Professor Taken in for Psych Evaluation for Tweets Threatening to Kill White People."

But if you read even their own article, you can find the tweet in question:  "will the 2nd amendment be as cool when i buy a gun and start shooting at random white people or no…?”  Yes, I know it is horrible that a professor at a major university has so little facility with English, but beyond that I am not sure how any reasonable observer can take this as a threat.  He is clearly making a point that folks might change their opinion on gun control if lots of white folks, rather than black folks I assume, got shot.  I actually think he is wrong -- people would have the opposite reaction -- but it is true that a far higher percentage of blacks fall victim to gun violence than whites and I don't think this formulation of his is an unacceptable way to raise this topic.  It is really no different than when I asked, any number of times, how New Yorkers' opinion of stop and frisk would change if it was done at the corner of 5th and 50th (in Midtown)  rather than in black neighborhoods.  The scary part of this, if you ask me, is a professor was dragged into psych evaluation like he was Winston Smith or something.

So here is my advice for the day -- before you retweet or repost or like on Facebook -- click through to the link and see that it says what you think it says.  I have not always followed my own advice but many times when I have not, I have regretted it.

Computer Gaming Updates

I have played through a half a game on Civ 6 and am thrilled.  Like original-cast Star Trek movies, every other episode is really good.  This one feels excellent.

I have a new geek obsession called Factorio.  Basically, you have to create an ever more complex production base with zillions of different intermediate products zipping this way and that on conveyors, all while fighting off aliens.

I played Stellaris for quite a while but got bogged down in the end game.  Tons of potential, maybe Stellaris 2 will crack the code.

Speaking of that, I did enjoy Endless Space, judging it good but not great (ie not totally addictive).  The pre-release version of Endless Space 2 has dropped and I am just starting to try it out.  Endless Legend was a really good alternate take on the Civ model and I am hoping that Endless Space 2 will do the same for space 4x.

Blogging Milestone

This is the fourth presidential election since I started blogging.  Never thought I would hold out this long.

Facebook Creepiness

Yesterday I browsed for a utility sink at Lowes for my hobby room.  Today, I open Facebook for the first time in weeks (on a different computer) and find an advertisement for that exact same sink at Lowes in my feed.

facebook-creepiness

You are being watched.

Something Bordering on Fraudulent Definitely Going On With Amazon Delivery Estimates

I reported before of clicking on the "today" one-click button at Amazon, meaning that I would pay a premium to get it here today (an option in the Phoenix area but not all locations) and having the item delivered one, two, or even three days later, rather than same day as promised.   This is happening with my Amazon orders more often than not - they are showing up days after they were promised when the sale was made.

It has now happened two more times.  On Tuesday evening I bought two small items I needed for an emergency computer rebuild, clicking in both cases on the button for delivery on Wednesday.  Neither showed up on Wednesday.  Neither showed up on Thursday.  The tracking on the site now says Friday. (By the way, all the rest of the stuff ordered from Newegg on a one day delivery showed up exactly as promised).

I went back and looked and the order confirmations sure enough say delivery on Friday.  I would never have ordered the item for Friday delivery, and in fact skimmed through multiple similar items until I found one that could be delivered on Wednesday.  I am positive I clicked Wednesday delivery, but a day later I got confirmations for a Friday delivery, without so much as an apology or even acknowledgement that this was not what I was promised.  I am sure Amazon will just call this user error on my part, but it now has happened on 8 or my last 10 rush shipments.  I GUARANTEE I know how to use Amazon, and have the order history to prove it, LOL.

I am convinced Amazon is executing a bait and switch, luring me into the purchase with the promise of a quick delivery and then delivering it several days late when it is too late for me to do anything about it.  Next time I do a rush order, I am going to take full screenshots of every step I take to prove what is going on.  Anyone else having similar experiences?  Amazon was dead-on reliable on these types of things until about 6 months ago, and then started to go off the tracks recently.