Opportunities

Joe Doakes from Como Park emailed (a little while ago):

I had an airplane reserved but they cancelled. Tornado in Cannon Falls. Too windy for light planes to safely fly. Disappointing.

Some people spend their whole lives chasing storms. I had one drop right in my lap and I missed it.

Feels like being a kid again. “Other people have all the fun, I never get to. It’s so unfair.”

Joe Doakes

as someone who occasionally likes to chase storms (when they aren’t chasing me) they both sound pretty cool.

Hot Gear Friday: The Higher Power

Every guy’s got a first love.

Sometimes it’s tragic, sometimes comic, often wistful or bittersweet – but it lurks in the background, occasionally sliding into the back, occasionally the front, of the mind, whispering “think about what might have been”.

Sometimes its a girl – a misty memory of a smile, a glint from her eyes, a wisp of hair that accents a charged ocnversation over school desks or across a bar or over a counter bookshelf or endcap at a store, a bit of vocal tone that drills into your memory and, on occasion, giggles at your joke across the years.

Sometimes it’s a guitar – to a non-guitaraist, an inert assembly of wood and wire and metal that looks cool; to you, a heft and a tone and a feel that drills into your brain and gives what’s in there a direct path straight out through your fingers, in ways you’d thought were just verbal unicorn-farts from other guitar players, but that you suddenly understand – and, deterred by timing and budget and your current reality, go back up on the stand, to remain in your mind, whspering “what if”.

It can be a job – a time or place where you felt all the things that humans seek and, in our modern world, miss all too often; accomplishment and compensation, sure, but companionship and respect and common goals, a time in your working life when earning a living, enjoying your day and feeling fulfilled in your life weren’t mutually exclusive.

A car? Sure – one that fit your life and your self-image so perfectly people remember you and that car in the same breath to this day?

Sure!

And sometimes?

Continue reading

Amazon Delivers

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

I’ve had my complaints about Amazon; and I recognize the social and economic threat posed by a single vendor running everybody else out of business; but consider:

I’ve been reading SciFi/Fantasy books my whole life. I just ran across a recommendation for The Chronicles of Prydain, which I’d never heard of. Placed my order for the five-book boxed set ($33) and it’ll be here tomorrow. Wait, what? I stumble across some random collection of young adult books and they’ve got it sitting in the warehouse in Shakopee? How big is that place?

On Friday, I tried out my new Beofung UV-5R handheld ham radio ($25 and yes, I hold a Technician license so it’s legal for me to talk on it). The ham I was chatting with said he could hardly hear me over the background noise. Might be a bad unit, Chinese junk, it happens. I went to Amazon to order a second unit – keep the one that works, return the other. Okay, it’ll be there in five hours. Wait, what? I realize it’s the most popular ham radio in the world so of course they have it in the warehouse, but if I order in the next 20 minutes it’ll be delivered to my doorstep tonight? For free? How many delivery drivers does Amazon have?

I saved a trip to Barnes and Noble (which probably would have been wasted because their SF/F section is only five shelves out of the entire store), and saved a trip to the Ham Radio Outlet in Milwaukee (last Twin Cities store closed two years ago), paid the same prices as I’d have paid brick-and-mortar stores and got free delivery to my doorstep faster than I could have driven to the store and back.

Retail has changed over time. The pioneers bought whatever limited selection of goods was stocked in the local General Store because they had no choice. Later, they ordered from the Sears catalogue for greater selection and department stores drove the mom-and-pop stores out of business. Now Amazon’s wider selection and faster delivery has driven Sears out of business. There’s a reason Amazon is taking over the retail world. And you know what? I’m surprisingly okay with it. What I want to know is . . . what’s next?

Joe Doakes

Artisanal bartering?

Some Conclusions “Science” Needs To Make

I’m not sure there’s scientific evidence of any of these – but if someone gave me a seven figure government grant, I’m sure I could come up with some.

School Kids “Walking Out Of Class” Is Not Spontaneous: Big Left must be trying to get people to the polls in nine months; the headlines are again full of stories of teenagers “walking out of school” to “protest” “causes”.

Amazingly, there were news cameras waiting right there as they walked out of school, carrying their professionally printed signs!

Those are some pretty motivated, well-funded, well-organized high school kids!

There are, of course, exceptions.

Mascists, Lockdown Fanboys/Fangirls Will Exhibit Deep Psychological Issues When Crisis Fades: The people hectoring you about your mask at Target are having the time of their lives right now. Feeling that they’re saving lives by badgering people about masks, virtue-signalling their vaxx status, and demanding we stay the locked-down course are living out their version of fighting an existential threat – sort of like their grandfathers landing on Utah Beach, only with DoorDash bringing them Oaxacan tacos, left “safely” on their doorsteps.

And like many of those veterans, when the crisis is over, so will end The Best Years Of Their Lives.

I”m picturing a movie in ten years about the readjustment blues and trauma that “veterans” of the pandemic will feel – sort of like Coming Home, only with DoorDash bringing Oaxacan tacos.

Birthday Greetings

Think about the evolution of military equipment over the past 100 years.

In 1920, the infantryman carried a bolt-action rifle. The tanker drove a rattle-trap armored against rifle fire that could clank along at 3-4 miles an hour. Many of the navy’s ships were powered by coal, and the big cannon was the sine qua non of naval warfare. Pilots flew in planes made of wood and doped canvas – basically box kites with motors, armed with machine guns and glorified grenades.

Thirty years later, the infantry carried cyclic-fire weapons, tanks could shake off light artillery (usually) the Navy’s sunday punch was powered by oil, and planes were the piston-engine equivalent of todays’ Formula 1 cars and the first jets were duking it out in the skies, armed with cannon and the first crude guided missiles.

Thirty years after that, tanks could hit the speed limit, see in the dark and shake off big, powerful artillery. The pride of the Navy was nuclear-powered. The first “stealth” aircraft were just starting to take shape at the Skunk works, and the front-line planes were armed with radar and infrared missiles that could reach out, in some cases, 100 miles.

And forty years hence? Drones are in the field, ships are stealthy, aircraft can shoot down aircraft that have no idea they’re there.

But through each of those eras, there’s been one thing in common – the M2 (HB)

Which was, as it happens, adopted by the US Army (in this case ,the long-disbanded Coast Artillery branc) for the first time 100 years ago this year. I’m gonna throw it out today, since I have no idea what the actual date of adoption was.

Here’s a quick history and tear-down guide…:

…from a channel that’s probably the most essential source of firearms trivia on the Internet.

Connect The Dots!

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

If I can see the sign, then I will know I can ask for a menu for the blind?

If I can read the sign in English, then I can ask for a picture menu for people who cannot read English?


I expect this is corporate HR’s attempt to satisfy the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.


It is worthy of ridicule.


Joe Doakes

Not to be a contrarian, but I suspect Joe’s first paragraph is correct.I would guess that most blind customers don’t walk in the McDonald’s on their own.

Among those that do? The sign is there to remind the staff, as well.

But yes, it is absolutely there to satisfy the ADA – and to placate regulators, and especially the people that wander from store to store looking for ADA lawsuits to file.

Ack Shu Ally

On the one hand, this article, by a Joe Morgan, explains why he is rejecting the “Learn to Code” meme, especially as applied to his kids under the chanting point “coding is the new litracy”:

I’m a Developer. I Won’t Teach My Kids to Code, and Neither Should You.

Now, in my opinion the presented reason is a little specious:

Coding is not the new literacy. While most parents are literate and know to read to their kids, most are not programmers and have no idea what kind of skills a programmer needs. Coding books for kids present coding as a set of problems with “correct” solutions. And if your children can just master the syntax, they’ll be able to make things quickly and easily. But that is not the way programming works. Programming is messy. Programming is a mix of creativity and determination. Being a developer is about more than syntax, and certain skills can only be taught to the very young.

Sure.

And by the exact same logic, one shouldn’t teach your kids to read, write or speak your family’s native language, or any others, since you can say exactly the same thing about verbal and written expression; it’s more than just stringing words together, as anyone who’s had to listen anyone trying to do a foreign language out of a phrase book can tell you.

Of course, Morgan is right about what’s really behind “coding”:

That feeling of quality is the hardest thing for many developers to master. Well-designed code feels good to work with, and ugly code will make developers involuntarily cringe. The best developers learn to fuse abstract logic with the sensitivity of an artist. Learning to trust that aesthetic feeling is as much a part of development as any algorithm or coding pattern.

That’s true – just as it is for written and spoken language. Or anything involving having to think critically, to reason and to work one’s way through a complex system, whether language or software engineering, politics, sales, or human relationships for that matter.

But the reason I, as a non-coder who works in a roomful of software engineers, cringe when I year people whose jobs don’t involve “coding” telling people who’ve just lost jobs to “learn to code?”

Because if you hitch your wagon to “code’, your job is as secure as the next country full of low-priced developers allows it to be. We spent the 2000s shipping software engineering jobs to Russia and India; in the 2010s, Romania and the Philippines and Slovenia and even Bolivia started taking development jobs.

It’s entirely possible coding will be to the 2020s what assembly line work was to the 1970s.

Learn to think.

Peak Minnesota

During the Twin Cities marathon yesterday, former Viking and former Minnesota supreme court justice Allen Page…

Photo courtesy John Welbes (@jwelbes on Twitter)

…cheering on the runners by playing the sousaphone.

Got to say, Page is looking pretty good for a 76-year-old guy, especially for a former NFL lineman from back in the “concussion? We don’t care about no stinking concussion“ stage of the game.

Cut

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails

My Comcast bill seems high for what I get. I have the Basic TV package which we use for watching Family Feud and that’s about all. Basic TV, Service to extra TV, Extra TV cable box, Broadcast TV fee, and Taxes – it’s $50 per month. I’m thinking of dropping cable TV for a couple of those Over the Air digital TV antennas. Anybody have any experience with ‘cutting the cable?’ Do they work? Am I on the right track?

Joe Doakes

Comcast cable service is pretty ridiculous. But their Internet is still the best option available (that I’m aware of, anyway) where I live. And it cost more to on bundle them then to take them together

More’s the pity.

User Experience

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Dear Google:
Every time you push out an update for my Chromebook, you default some (but not all) of my settings.  I have certain pages at 125% view for a reason.  Don’t change it. 
Yes, I know your programmers want to show off their clever innovations.  That’s the Microsoft model.  “See, we moved the button you need from the ribbon to a pull-down menu, isn’t that handy?”  No.  I had it there for a reason.  Don’t change it.
And yes, I’m sure it is easier for you if everyone does everything the same.  That’s the Apple model:  “We know this isn’t what you wanted but we’re so smart we know what you should want, so that’s what you’re getting.”   No. I chose Chrome for a reason. Don’t be Apple.  Leave my s*** alone. 
Joe Doakes

As a “User Experience Architect”, the manner of some companies – I’m looking at you, Apple – can only be described as “arrogant”.

Options

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

There are two drive-through lanes at McDonald’s. One should be labeled: “I know what I want,” and the other should be labeled: “I need to read the entire menu board to see what sounds good, then negotiate with the order-taker to ask if I can have my Big Mac made vegan on a gluten-free bun and I don’t want my fries cooked in peanut oil.”

Might be a little wordy. Maybe shorten it to: “Idiot.”

I wonder if they have that problem at In-N-Out Burger?

Joe Doakes

Back when I still ate bagels, I wanted Bruegger‘s to come up with a separate lane for people who just wanted a couple of bagels to go, and let the people who wanted those godforsaken sandwiches to take 20 minutes to make, each, have their own lane.

I Blame Technology

My handwriting is atrocious. This dates back to elementary school, and it crosses all styles, from the cursive they tried to teach me and that I tried to practice into high school, to the regular mixed-case print I painfully adopt when filling out paperwork, to the all-cap scrawl I picked up working in radio when it was a convention.

And yet I do most of my note-taking by hand. I find it helps me to retain things in memory better. I usually transcribe the important notes to a Notepad file when I have spare time, but the written word just stick better with me.

But at best, unless I’m being very careful – as in, just about doing calligraphy (which, by the way, I’m pretty good at), my handwriting is barely legible even to me.

This article – along with a fascinating explication of the history of the modern pen – explains why. It’s the damn ballpoint.

Which might at least impart explain why I almost always use Paper Mate “Flair” felt-tip pens for my note taking – for the best combination of speed and low stress on my hand.

All Is Not As It Seems

A friend of the blog emails:

https://www.startribune.com/biodiesel-not-electric-buses-may-join-metro-transit-fleet/600029359/

[The Strib notes that] “Biodiesel, not electric, buses may join Metro Transit fleet. “

Biodiesel? Made from animal fat?

That means I’ll need to eat more meat!

After almost three years of keto, it’s a tempting conclusion.

But I’ll haste to add that a key source of biodiesel is…

…er…

…the downstream leg of the human digestive function, ifyaknowwhatImean.

The Design Of Everyday Things

I send an email which Mitch posted on February 4th in a column called
Surprised, Not Surprised. I complained about the Post Office’s on-line
system to request they hold my mail while I went on vacation, which
ended up being postponed.

I was informed in the comments by a person who claimed to be an expert
on the subject, that Informed Delivery was a great success and “your
disappointed experience with Informed Delivery is either an aberration
or a result of unrealistic expectations, and is not persuasive to a
larger argument about the post office.”

Maybe so but the story doesn’t end there. I finally got signed up. I
rescheduled my trip to Texas leaving February 12 and returning the
22nd. I used the on-line system to place a Hold My Mail request and
then . . . blizzard, trip postponed again. So, I went back on-line and
cancelled the Hold My Mail request.

Just checked the box . . . no mail. I can think of two possibilities:
either every junk mailer in the nation suddenly dropped me from their
lists, or the Post Office is holding my mail even though I cancelled the
request.

No, I’m not going to call. First, I hate navigating automated phone
trees. Second, even if I got a live representative, the best they could
do would be to put in a Cancel request and by the time it filtered down
to the Rice Street Station, the hold period would be over so my mail
would be delivered anyway.

Another aberration? More unrealistic expectations? Maybe so, but they
keep happening. It’s sad, because the Post Office is one of the few
activities the federal government is constitutionally authorized to do.
It’s a shame they do it so poorly.

Joe Doakes

When I was in a computer science class in college, the prof – who’d been a software engineer just long enough to pick up some terrible habits and beliefs – declaimed often that “90% of problems with system involve stupid users”.

It’s a view that governs a lot of how “systems” people – from technocrats and systems analysts at a high level all the way down to programmers – view the world; “if only our customer was as smart as we. Or me”.

The field I work in is the group brought in when the customer – the business paying for those systems, and who realize that actual users just aren’t adopting, using or appreciating their technocrats’ genius – realizes that kind of arrogance isn’t a strategy.

Notably, government is simultaneously very good at adopting my particular discipline (check out the human factors of an F35 cockpit) and really, really bad (the MNSure, MNLARS and “Please give me a vaccine” websites).

File this accordingly.

True Ex-Believers

I grew up in grew up in a family of Democrats – Dad was a teacher, Mom had a little hippie inclination – and it’s probably not a huge shock that’s how I started out as well. At North Dakota Boys State, I wrote a party platform that would have made Paul Wellstone blanche in horror – not because I was an especially well-read or committed econommic “progressive”, but becasue that was the water in which I figuratively swam as a teenager.

In college, my major advisor, Dr. Blake, convinced me that it just wasn’t true – that I was in fact a conservative. And he was right. I voted for Reagan in my first presidential election, and never really went back.

About ten years later, disgusted with the 1994 Crime Bill, I left and went to the Libertarians (just in time to miss a great redemptive moment in GOP history – but I had two babies at home at the time, so I wasn’t actually doing that much political thinking, to be honest.

Four years later, I went back, figuring the problems in the GOP were best fixed on the inside. It’s still an ongoing battle – maybe never moreso.

One thing I didn’t do? Spend years making theatrical amends to Republicans for having been a Demorat; trashing my former Republican friends to my (temporary) Libertarian pals; hovering over Libertarians’ sayings to find things to pounce on to show my GOP friends I was a true believer.

I’ve encountered a lot of that lately – various people I know who’ve left one party or another, and felt the need to not just express their new beliefs (yay, more power to you!) but expound on how blinkered, deluded, malformed and stupid the people in their old party are, and how very decisively they’ve left them behind.

One longtime real-life as well as social media friend felt the need to issue a heartfelt – “theatric” might be a better term – public apology to all his new (Democrat in this case) friends for ever having been a Republican sympathizer.

But that was just the most extreme example.

The only comparison I have is with a jilted spouse whose ex ran off with the cabana boy or secretary, and spends years sputtering first with rage, then the sort of passive-aggressive sniping that becomes a lifestyle (and a tiresome one) if you let it.

And it’s a pretty ecumenical phenomenon. I’ve seen it with ex-Republicans in the Libertarian party, Republican Trump supporters AND Never-Trumpers, ex-Trump supporters of any and no affiliation – and I’m sure it happens with ex-Democrats too.

I mean – your political beliefs changed. If your politics are so closely tied to your personality and the fabric of your life that you have to spend that kind of time and energy attacking not only your old beliefs, but the people who still hold them?

It creeps me out. Seriously.

Happy New Year!

Let’s get everyone’s predictions for the new year on record.

I’ll start:

  • After nine months of whinging “2020 is the worst year ever“, Americans will discover that events don’t read calendars. Things’ll stop sucking pretty much whenever they stop sucking.
  • Joe Biden will come out of the White House basement no more often after being sworn in than he did before.
  • Nonetheless, his mental decline will become so apparent that by autumn, the Democrats will attempt to remove him using the 25th Amendment. Of course, if Biden doesn’t resign, and Harris and the Cabinet have to vote to remove Biden under Section 4, while the Veep and Cabinet can temporarily remove him, throwing the issue to Congress…where a 2/3 vote is required to permanently replace Biden with Harris. Which presents Mitch McConnell with a bit of a dilemma: would it be better to leave Biden in place as leader of the Democrat party, flailing and walking into walls and wandering into odd tangents, or install a “president” who never got over 5% of the vote in any primary and is pushing an agenda that would motivate Republicans and conservatives like nothing since Obamacare?
  • Americans, fatigued by over a year of restrictions that, outside of a few liberty-first states, and armed with the gradually escaping knowledge that T-cell immunity has made vast swathes of the population already functionally immune, will start to treat Covid restrictions the way their great-grandparents treated prohibition.
  • While waiting for America’s idiot ruling class to wake up and smell the public health coffee (ew), China will gobble up vast shares of the world market.
  • With the trials pushed back to the start of summer, the George Floyd trial’s verdicts will lead to rioting that make Minneapolitans look on the last week of May 2020 as the good old days. By 2030, Minneapolis will be generally revealed to be a failed city along the lines of Detroit, Newark and NOLA.

Your turn.