Thursday, October 20, 2016

Bush v. Gore v. Trump

Gore DID accept the 2000 election outcome--by allowing the government of FL to proceed in determining the winner.

It was *Bush* who brought the two suits to SC to reject FL outcome. That's why the suits are called BUSH v. Gore and BUSH v. Palm Beach County, with Bush first. (Like how Brown was the one trying to put a stop to the status quo in Brown v. Board of Education.)

Bush and the conservative Supreme Court literally intervened to refuse to allow Florida to recount its votes according to its interpretation of existing law, a decision that Scalia justified in part because he argued that the recount would *cause Bush harm* by "casting a cloud upon what he sees as the legitimacy of his election". Well yes, especially if Florida's electoral process resulted in the outcome that Gore had more votes (as the 2001 consortium of news orgs and statisticians determined he did), it would harm Bush and cast a cloud of non-presidency :)

Bush, conservative elected officials and conservative judges repeatedly rejected the process underway and *imposed* outcomes.

Gore could have brought suit in response in an attempt to reject the outcome, like Bush had multiple times already, but instead conceded, asking private citizens to refrain from pushing to allow Florida to determine the outcome of its election.

So Gore not only accepted the outcome where Bush, conservative elected officials and conservative judges would not, he accepted *another* outcome too, one that the state government of Florida believed prevented it from determining the actual outcome of its election, and which the best review we have determined likely *did* prevent it from determining the will of the voters.

That's double the acceptance of the outcome of most presidential winners or losers!

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Rock criticism vs. Jazz criticism

Loved this comparison of rock and jazz criticism from an interview with the NYTimes's departing music critic, Ben Ratliff:

"The philosophy of rock is essentially founded on the idea of killing your parents, breaking with the past and creating something entirely new: being shocking or disorienting. What we think of now as rock criticism, at least in its sensibility, basically starts with punk and is fairly hazy about what came before it. Anything that seems allied with punk in some way is basically true and right. Somehow that includes Bob Dylan. It also includes John Lennon, but not Paul McCartney. The culture of rock musicians buys into that and the culture of rock critics buys into that, so there’s unity. You’re absolutely right, it’s astonishing sometimes to hear rock musicians talk with knowledge and insight about Lester Bangs or Greil Marcus or whomever. They care what those people said and thought.

In jazz, there’s a fundamentally different understanding between critics and musicians. Many critics are futurists, a slightly less violent cousin of punks: they believe it is the music’s need or destiny to break away from the past and reinvent itself. And many jazz musicians believe that continuity with the past is extremely important."

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Recommending Cory Doctorow's sci-fi writing

Several friends have asked me about Cory Doctorow's Down & Out in the Magic Kingdom.

I recommend it!

  • As great Literature, i give it a C
  • As a quick, entertaining read, A
  • As thought provoking social sci-fi that I think about often, A
  • As having an ineffable sparkling spirit, A
  • As a sampler of the writing of someone whose work you might enjoy continuing to read, A+
All his books are free on his website,, as well as available in various traditional formats for money. Here's the html version of Down & Out.

Some find Doctorow too "light" compared to, say, Ancillary Justice, but I really enjoy his imagination and grounding in political and economic issues. Doctorow worked for the EFF for many years, and is responsible for much of the venerable nerd blog Boingboing's political voice.

I also deeply appreciate his constant push to challenge himself and grow his art. Some of my favorite reads have been his ambitious novels that, in my opinion, fail to build a cohesive and effective whole, but are interesting failures. After D&OITMC:

  • if you like his density of tech ideas, you should read his short story collection Overclocked
  • If you're into the political/tech activist edge, you should read his radical, breathtaking young adult book Little Brother
  • If you're into the ineffable sparkling spirit of D&O, you should read his collection A Place So Foreign, which has stories about, eg, an alien collector of earth memorabilia, and Superman becoming political
  • If you're into the future economics/culture of work stuff, you might try reading his ambitious failure Makers, which is a near future tale of a startup that tries to use 3d printing as an engine to reinvent work
  • If you want to read his most literarily ambitious work, which has one foot in magic absurdism and one foot in startup culture, you might try his Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. It didn’t really come together for me, but he’s trying something difficult and builds a unique fictional world.

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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Thoughts on Cancer

I had testicular cancer in 2004.

Short version: I noticed a hard long lump (2 inches long!), they took it out.

I had the good fortune to find M. Mendel Shemtov, a phenomenal surgeon at NY Presbyterian who dug into every possible detail with me. I'd met with a doc at Sloan Kettering, but found the entire experience there to be inattentive, breezy, and not confidence inspiring, so I paid thousands more to go out of network with the NYP guy).

It's a good kind of cancer to have because your testicles are so separate from the rest of your body, and they can take one out and you're still 100% fine! As my 2 daughters since then attest :)

There was some possible spreading of cancer cells to my abdomen, so I had 5 awful weeks of radiation, and threw up every day.

Directly after my first radiation, I went to see Prince at Madison Square Garden. No one had warned me that I might be more than a tiny bit nauseous. I ended up racing to the bathroom 3 times to throw up, racing back each time because I didn't want to miss a thing. I can believe the claim that Prince is the greatest performer of all time.

Obamacare has been a huge relief for me -- I've been forced to move and take jobs only because if I didn't, I'd lose insurance and be denied forever as having a preexisting condition.

Now at 11 years free of any sign of cancer in my scans.

The common narrative of cancer is that it clarifies your values and will to like. I generally found this not to be true for me. (Susan Sontag's Illness as Metaphor often The whole experience didn't change me at all, but then i thought back some more and reconsider.

I do think it made me kind of assume in the background that I might die at any time. But sometimes that's not great for the day to day. A lot of the best work I've done has come when I'm 0% thinking I've got to go Something That Matters with my life, and instead am just freely creating something I love. Thinking from the perspective of my death bed can be kinda paralyzing.

Pretty much as soon as I got healthy, I got the offer to go to Georgia and work for the new president for the Georgian salary of $12k/yr, which I was totally unqualified to do. At the time I had almost no savings, with a $550/mo health insurance bill that I couldn't miss a payment on no matter how little I earned.

I was terrified to do it, but I think the brush with death helped me have total certainty that I had to go. And that decision (and taking it seriously every day when i was there, even when I had nothing but doubt and fear everywhere i looked) kind of opened a whole door in my life.

Having kids has also done a lot to get me better at being present without a goal. Camus' end to The Myth of Sisyphus seems to describe what time spent with them is like: "Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world."

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Monday, October 10, 2016

How to fix a slow Mac: painfully obvious, yet painfully obscure

After my Mac Mini's sluggishness wasted many hours of my time and cost me hundreds of dollars in missed consulting dollars over the last month, I was fed up.

I spent probably 10 hours over the last few weeks struggling to understand the problem, testing the mac, learning about the reasons it might be slow, comparing comments about possible solutions, running software... and now that I know all this nonsense, I think the correct path is actually super clear:

  • Problem: my Mac has physical hard drive, which is too slow (it was actually really hard to figure out how to read activity monitor to understand the HD was the constraining factor).
  • Solution: upgrade to SSD (solid state drive)
  • Any real need to actually replace my Mac? Ran benchmarks and compared to current place in Apple upgrade cycle, answer is upgrading Mac would be a huge waste of time and money compared to just upgrading to SSD.
  • Defrag? Repair permissions? Blah blah blah? None of that stuff really matters if it's just slow and not totally unusable
  • Which SSD? Actually really obvious, absolutely no doubt it's the Samsung 850 EVO 1TB right now, with this Inateck enclosure
  • Install it internally or externally? Lots of research showed me external should be totally fast enough to not be noticeably worse than internal; and if I change my mind I can always go internal later. (there's tons of whiny misinformation about external drive speeds.)
  • Boot setup? Should clone disk to SSD and boot from it.
  • How to clone? Here's how (I couldn't find these steps presented clearly anywhere, had to cobble them together):
    1. Use Disk Utility (Applications > Utilities folder) to format the SSD, erasing it and formatting as “Mac OS Extended (Journaled)” with a single GUID partition.
    2. Use Carbon Copy Cloner to clone your hard drive to the SSD. If you are running Lion or Mountain Lion, choose the option to copy the Recovery Partition to the SSD.
    3. Restart your computer whilst holding down the option key and select the SSD as the boot drive. You’ll know in a few seconds if your clone was successful.
    4. Go to System Preferences > Startup Disk and select your new SSD as your startup drive.
    5. Use Trim Enabler to enable TRIM on your new SSD.

Now, maybe there is some tricky judgment call in there that I'm not appreciating, but I really don't think so. I really think all of this is the only reasonable course given my incredibly common situation.

Yet in the course of researching this, I had to step around countless debates. Do you need TRIM? Is an external SSD fast enough to boot from? How painful is the process of installing a new HD in your Mac Mini? Is it necessary? Is USB 3.0 fast enough? It's not that there aren't reasonable people who disagree on some of this, but the appropriate answers for most people should be very clear. (Respectively: yes, yes, doable but pretty dicey, no, yes)

Could I have just ordered a new mac and swallowed the money and saved myself time? Well, part of the problem was I didn't know what the source of the problem was at the start of this... not that I'm 100% positive of my new understanding, but it seems pretty clear what the problem is once I ran cpu benchmarks and learned how to read Activity Monitor right*. The other part is that Apple's upgrade cycle is way behind schedule, so if you assume you only get about 4 years out of a typical computer before it's too old to run current software, you're sort of paying double the cost (in both dollars and software install hours). A new Mac that would make me confident of its performance would be $1500-2000, or about $4000 in real cost for me considering the situation. I estimate that doing nothing for another year would cost me $2000 in lost time and business.

Instead, it turns out that $320 and an hour of your time can get you basically a new Mac, with all your same files and no need to reinstall apps, and the ability to make those files available to a new Mac in seconds (by plugging the drive into it).

This kind of info should be easier to get! My guess is that a large number of Mac users out there are in exactly the same boat. Yet each of these thousands of people either has to learn this diagnosis and solution on their own, or never know it and lose out.

How can this be better? Is there no on-demand hirable replacement for my judgment and expertise? How many people out there could have figured out what I need in 30 minutes on the phone? Even the right blog post would have helped me. But no one out there is incentivized to collect this advice and provide it to people at large. If someone wrote this and it worked for me, I might like upvote them on Stack Overflow, but that's it. Is that really the only incentive we can muster? Isn't there some way we could credibly make our expertise available for occasional hire?

(* I thought low HD usage meant low HD load, where it really means low HD throughput. The drive may be choking as fast as it can through a massive backlog of read and write requests, which are not shown at all. This makes the disk view in Activity Monitor totally different from CPU and RAM views, which basically show load and not performance, which is more or less constant for processors and memory. Often the variations you see in disk usage are due to the size and placement of the RW requests, so it might say 75 reads at 3MB/s, then 400 reads at 4MB/s, while the disk could be said to be running at 100% possible throughput the whole time. There may have been 300MB of requests, but only 4MB/s of them are actually getting delivered.)