Toolmaking: The Stick

When traversing the jungle, or any environment replete with vines such as the deciduous forests of Appalachia, a machete is a useful tool to have in order to clear a path through dense thickets, or even to remove vines from native and feral fruit and nut trees.

It often happens though that one does not remember to bring a machete when setting out or does not have one convenient.

Among the machete’s useful properties as a tool in this task are that it is much harder than one’s skin, and it has some heft and length to it so that when it is swung rapidly and with force, the far end of the stick can develop a very high velocity. All things considered, a straight stick of 1 to 2 inches in diameter can be nearly as useful for clearing many vines as a machete. It is much less painful and less strenuous to use than attempting to pull on vines with one’s hands, and it is less dangerous than the machete itself since a wayward swing will not amputate one’s leg inadvertently.

Write an Indian Poem

Back in 3rd grade or 5th grade I was in a class which assigned us to write an “indian poem”. The teacher had shown some alleged examples of indian poems. I remember being told that the cyclical nature of time and the natural world were acceptable themes of these so called indian poems, and that the poems should not rhyme, with the implication that primitive indians hadn’t managed to invent the idea of rhyming.

I hadn’t thought about this, or the details, for decades but it suddenly popped into my mind today. I do remember very clearly thinking a long time about how it was quite absurd that a white textbook writer would be putting direction of how to write an indian poem in a textbook, and then a white teacher would dictate to an indian what exactly an indian poem is supposed to or allowed to be about. To me, an indian poem is a poem written by an indian. A poem about nature written by a white man is obviously not an indian poem. It was also clear that the exact opposite of each of these positions was being asserted by the mere existence of this assignment.

I wrote a poem. I made sure it rhymed, had nothing to do with the natural world, and had no allusions to cycles. Maybe it was about robots or machines or space aliens, I don’t recall any longer.

I don't remember what grade I got on that assignment. I do know that I was hoping to fail the assignment, which I would see as a triumph. I don't think I did fail it, and am fairly sure that the teacher was not aware of why I wrote about robots. He or she may not have even read the poems at all but just checked to see if they were the minimum number of lines.

Standardized Tests

I was looking at the example questions from our standardized state tests this year for 3rd graders.

For English competency testing I found the following passage followed by questions to test understanding.

In 1889, Queen Margherita and King Umberto I of Italy took a vacation in the seaside town of Naples, Italy. The queen saw people strolling outside eating pizza. She wanted to try some pizza for herself.Raffaele Esposito was a popular pizza maker in town. He was chosen to make a pizza for the queen.Esposito wanted his pizza to be extra special. So he made a pizza using the colors of the Italian flag: red, green, and white. Red tomatoes, green basil (an herb), and white mozzarella cheese went on his patriotic pizza.Esposito baked his creation, and it was delivered to the queen. She loved it. She sent a note of praise and thanks. Raffaele named it Pizza Margherita in honor of the queen. Soon everyone wanted to try it.

The questions are then as follows:

How did Raffaele Esposito feel about Queen Margherita?Identify two clues the author includes in the passage to show that Raffaele Esposito feels this way.

I found these questions annoying because the text says nothing about Esposito’s feelings about the queen, and what he did, which is a well known story from the history of pizza, is simply being a rational person, not an emotional one.

In the scoring guide it gives example correct answers as essay text saying things such as “He loved the queen.” The text does not support that though.

Here is my answer, which would receive a 0 according to the established scoring criteria.

How did Raffaele Esposito feel about Queen Margherita?

Raffaele Esposito was a talented businessman who owned a restaurant in Napoli in the 19th century. When the queen came to eat pizza there having heard of this regional specialty of Napoli, he felt the traditional topping of garlic and oregano (known now as Pizza Marinara) would not sit well with the delicate tastes of the Queen, and so he made a new pizza style with cheese, basil leaves, and tomatoes, mimicking the colors of the Italian flag. The queen enjoyed this and sent him a note thanking him. The original note is in the restaurant which still stands to this day, and is now called Pizzeria Brandi. A wise businessman, Esposito prominently displayed the letter and started marketing the garlic-less pizza as Pizza Margherita, after the queen's name. This called potential customer's attention to the fact that the queen, a celebrity, had eaten there and given it a good review. That is being a smart businessman.

The above text leaves out much of the full story. Also, it does not say how Esposito felt about the queen. His actions were consistent with what an intelligent business owner would do in similar circumstance and do not reflect any particular "feelings" about the queen. I suspect that he appreciated her having stopped to eat on that day and was thankful she sent a note since it enabled him to establish his restaurant as the sort of place where famous royalty eats. Marketing the event by naming the new pizza style Margherita was an excellent move to accomplish this.

Identify two clues the author includes in the passage to show that Raffaele Esposito feels this way.

The text does not give clues to Esposito's feelings. It only discusses historical events, somewhat inaccurately, and outlines rational business decisions.

Your Pal - Oil Symbiote Bacteria

Depending on who you listen to, one or more of the following may be true:
  1. Bacteria are the largest consumers of petroleum and are eating half of the gulf's oil.
  2. Bacteria are nature's safety cleansers who removed all the oil spill from the BP incident, naturally, effectively, and for free.
  3. GMO Bacteria can be patented and used for oil spills. They are designed to have much more aggressive growth rates and have the advantage of toxic byproducts that will turn earth into a desert while consuming all oils and fats on the planet, including that in your body. GMO products are “green”, environmentally friendly, and completely harmless when they escapes to the environment where apparently it spontaneously chooses to stop eating oil because it is so well behaved.
  4. GMO Bacteria eat garbage and produce petroleum as a byproduct. Soon there will be unlimited oil and no garbage. The bacteria eat only true garbage and never mutate. It is safe. Perfectly safe. Green and environmentally friendly.
  5. Natural Bacteria live deep within the earth and are producing oil as we speak. The oil will never run out.
  6. Engineered Bacteria improve the quality of oil in existing wells.

Which if any are right? Who knows.

Whistle while you work

Dolphins have signature whistles that only one dolphin regularly makes, but other dolphins will use that whistle when around the dolphin it belongs to. This means that dolphins have names for each other and respond to them.

I wonder where they get the names, if dolphins make them up themselves at a certain age, or if their parents or group bestow them. Also, do they change names at certain points in their lives?

The world is standardizing on the modern western authoritarian FILL IN THIS FORM WITH FIRST MIDDLE LAST IN ORDER TO RECEIVE 'RIGHTS'.

Too bad.

Many tribes don't assign names at all for some time or assign a fake name to fool bad spirits.

It's extremely common to change your name at each life change.

The whole western surname thing is so ethnocentric as well.

In South India they do this naming scheme:

Grandpa: Q R S
Father:  R S V
You:     S V M

You have your father's name and your grandfather's given name, and then yours. There is no persistent surname.

Self Sabotage

I was reading an article in Slate about how movie studios are making mistakes in handling sales of their product.

This reminded me of some experiences I have had with certain big studio DVDs:

  1. Forced coming attractions you can't bypass.
  2. Forced ads you can't bypass.
  3. DVD cases with no inserts or information of any kind.
  4. Poor quality transfers.
  5. DRM that installs rootkit malware.
  6. DRM that prevents play on the computer's DVD software, forcing the user to rip it before watching it.

Absolutely none of these things are necessary. None of them are intrinsic to DVD technology. All of these things are choices Studio MBAs make to intentionally make the product worse, to destroy the usability and user friendliness of this product, and to alienate the customers, driving them away from the product.

To be sure this does not apply to all DVDs. But it does for quite a few of them, and in an unpredictable way, which then creates a Market for Lemons and undermines the entire industry.

The solution, which I don’t think will be adopted by the big players, is to make a good product, and don’t intentionally sabotage the product so as not to alienate customers and destroy the market. Forty years ago, the American auto industry in Detroit started in with the idea of intentionally making bad products that would break down in order to increase sales. This is related to the doctrine of planned obsolescence. How did that work out? Detroit has depopulated since then and now is a post apocalyptic wasteland nearly devoid of human life.

In the Slate article, the author spends considerable money each month on cable, DVDs, premium cable, Netflix and Hulu Plus and ends up unhappy. It really sounds like he is watching too much TV, but that is his issue. Here on the farm, we have a giant antenna that picks up HD digital broadcast TV stations from the big city 85 miles away, for those pretty rare cases every few months when we might want to watch broadcast TV. That is supplemented with used and remnant DVD purchases, Hulu, and YouTube. Really the quality of broadcast TV is not so good compared to the thousands of amateur productions on YouTube. As far as movies, cable would not be as high quality as DVDs. When the DVDs we purchase try to block being played, we simply rip them and watch the ripped version. Kind of inconvenient, but it’s certainly fair use given we have paid for them and they won’t play otherwise.

Is the US spending enough on health care?

See the following graph for more information about why we need to spend much more money to protect the precious health of all Americans.

(From: National Geographic, The Cost of Care)

Similar graphs make the identical case for spending more on state schooling.

Health Care vs Sick Care

There is no such thing as a health care industry. The term itself is offensive propaganda.

Health care means eating real food without a bunch of toxic chemicals and pesticides in it, being cautious or moderate in your exposure to dangerous substances and activities, getting exercise, and staying sane by which I mean trying to avoid being born in an oppressive and mentally stressful police state that makes lies of the truth and the truth into lies. Health care is not something you buy or that is provided or controlled by some external party. Health care is things that you yourself do for your own benefit.

Health care does not mean eating low quality giant corporate food sold by giant corporate stores which leaves you hungry because it has almost no nutritional value, so you eat too much and become obese then you buy corporate diet pills, then buying low quality corporate controlled for profit surgery for a hack to excise the fat, then when the pesticide residue gives you cancer you buy corporate controlled for profit radiation and chemical poisons to kill the cancer, then more corporate controlled for profit surgery to remove the cancer caused by the corporate produced toxic GMO pesticide drenched frankenfood.

When I was young there was no such term as “health care industry”. There were doctors, and there was the drug industry, there were hospitals and clinics, there were insurance corporations. None of these deal with health care though. They deal with sick care. People don’t use this system to take care of their health. They live in dysfunctional ways in an unhealthy environment and when that environment poisons them and makes them unwell, they go to the sick care industry, which often then denies them treatment, misdiagnoses them, gives them drugs that make things worse, and/or submits them to endless stress inducing bullshit until they get cancer and die.

No one in the past, other than perhaps the most cynical and manipulative corporate sociopaths, were calling for everyone to be forced to buy (what Matt Taibbi called) “dogshit insurance” plans from a corrupt but massively profitable insurance industry that conspired to cut off their care if they ever actually became sick after years of useless payments. But now all the morons in the world (99% of the population) is screaming for this system as a “human right” and attacking those of us with sense as if we are conspiring to block people from this “health care” because we are elitists who want everyone to die. That is all bullshit and the advocates who aren’t brainwashed know it. If you support the current solutions that are being forced down our throats by this corrupt industry’s lobbyists, you are a rube.

Ticks Love Gasoline

Every time I go to fill the lawn mower from the plastic gas can, there are from dozens to hundreds of ticks under and around the cap that rush out and leap on my arm and start crawling up it. This has happened with more than one gas can. Clearly ticks are attracted to gasoline fumes.

Digital Watch Rant

I have various watches whose batteries have run down over the years. Some months ago I bought batteries for them and then unsuccessfully attempted to open them to change the batteries. Failing this, today I took them to a watch shop to have the batteries replaced. One of the cases did get scuffed due to the clamps needed to remove the back, so it wasn’t just me that had problems opening these things. The watch expert set the time on the analog watches, but told me that the digitals it would be up to me to set. I thought little of this until I got home and tried to set the time.

There are four buttons on each of the two digital watches I needed to set. Three buttons are labelled, but the labels are useless for this task because they do not label them according to the time setting mode. Clicking on buttons revealed a number of screens, warnings to “hold to start timer”, notifications that the timer had accidentally been started and so forth.

The unlabeled button is considerably harder to press. I vaguely recall years ago having to press it hard while pressing other buttons simultaneously in strange patterns. I also started to recollect decades of older people asking me to help set their digital watches and then being frustrated as I spent 20 or 30 minutes each time trying to figure out how to do so, each watch being slightly different, none being obvious and often having to give up. Hadn’t thought about that in years. Then I remembered the whole deal with setting VCR timers, which was similarly inconsistent and often completely impossible without reading a long error filled manual first which was written in badly translated language and then having to guess. Without the manual one was doomed. I also recalled telling these sorts of stories in the past and then being told by people how easy it was to set their VCR clock, with the implication being that they were brilliant geniuses having figured it out and I was obviously a moron.

Looking around in 2011, I don’t see many people with digital wristwatches. I see occasional analog ones, which are very easy to set. Most people use their cell phones as watches now, and those not only automatically set the time, but they track time zone changes automatically as you drive or fly around the country.

I know this is controversial, but I think all these user interfaces were terrible, and were essentially impossible to use. By impossible I don’t mean that it couldn’t eventually be figured out. I mean that it took far more time and trouble to figure it out than any reasonable person would tolerate for what should be a trivial task.

Googling on “how to set a digital watch” there are dozens of articles, each describing a different method specific to one type of watch. Reading through the first several articles, not one of them described a method that worked with either of these watches. This is a failure of design. Setting the time is not a conceptually complicated task. Doing so on an analog worked fine and worked the same on all watches.

Digital watches should have implemented the same interface as analog. Pull the knob out to put in time changing mode and turn it to change the hours. There are plenty of digital knob designs that have endless turning nowadays, they are common on synthesizers, and are found on mouse wheels. That interface worked fine and should not have been abandoned. The replacement of four buttons and mystery button pressing sequences is not an improvement.

This also reminds me of a car radio I once had. It took me several years before I found out that the way to set stations was to hold down station buttons for five seconds. That was not obvious at all. Once I understood it, yes, it was easy. But then the next car radio worked a different way.

Any time a designer is contemplating having buttons that do multiple things that are not labelled, or buttons that do several very different things depending on how long they are pressed they should stop and ask themselves if this is the right design. If it’s just a shortcut, and there also exist alternative methods of doing the same thing, then it’s not a problem. But if the only way to do something is extremely unobvious, unlikely to be accidentally discovered, and not labelled, it’s probably going to be a problem for many users.

Another problem is arbitrarily different interfaces. If you are going to have a new interface, it should be better than existing well known ones. For example, analog watch interfaces work fine and are well understood. There is not a single digital wrist watch I have ever seen that is any improvement whatsoever in the ease of use of the analog watch interface. Therefore, the interface should not have been changed. This is simple logic. Likewise the interface on VCRs. They should have either used analog style knobs or decoded time signals that have been encoded on TV transmission signals for years. Modern cell phones do have an improvement over analog watches though, they set the time automatically.

Designers responsible for digital watch like interfaces should do the world a favor and stop designing things. There is no excuse for such abysmal interfaces, and abysmal interfaces have been a curse upon mankind for decades. It’s not surprising people gave up on them when cell phones came out with a better design. For those of us without cell phones, the answer that is least frustrating is to have an analog watch.

And finally, I remembered that the last time I dealt with this watch in 2000 I found that it was programmed incorrectly regarding whether 2000 was a leap year and gives the wrong day of week for all dates after February 28, 2000. There were a number of developers back then who knew that there was a 100 year exception to the 4 year exception, which they gleefully programmed into their systems, not having studied the issue fully where they would have realized that there is a 400 year exception to the 100 year exception. I talked to one of these developers in 1991 who was gleefully bragging to me about how brilliant and exceptional he was for knowing about the 100 year exception. When I informed him about the 400 year exception, which meant that his exception was breaking year 2000 leap support rather than fixing it, he shrugged and said “Whatever. When 2000 comes around, I’m not going to be working there any more anyway, so it’s someone else’s problem.” That statement left a bitter taste in my mouth that remains today, 20 years later. What unimaginable hubris many incompetent designers have.

Recognized Holidays

Each culture has their own festivals, celebrations and observances.

Among others, we observe the following ones.

date observance
July 20 Moon Day, Interplanetary New Year
August 17 Indonesian Independance
November 16 Moon Pie Day
March 14 Pi Day
First Friday in May No Pants Day
Third Sunday of May State of Franklin Decoration (Memorial) Day

Consume to obtain Benefit

I have long been disturbed by the use of the term “Human Resources” when talking about people who work for giant corporations.

The definition of resource is “any physical or virtual entity of limited availability that needs to be consumed to obtain a benefit from it."

That is a good description of the evil that corporations do though. Consume the worker until there is nothing left, nothing more to give, and then discard him like a used tissue.

How does one reconcile any moral path with the objectification and dehumanization of people by calling them Resources. Resources are things. People are not things.

The term “Human Resources” is very offensive. Anyone using this term should be regarded with suspicion.

MBAs have destroyed OceanSpray CranGrape

I used to like OceanSpray Cranberry drinks, except for their use of corn syrup. Recently they have switched to sugar beet sugar, mainly because beets are now genetically modified and producers can’t resist converting everything to health-threatening frankenfood.

The straight Cranberry is pretty good though.

I also bought some of the CranGrape, which I had not had in years. I was shocked to find that there was absolutely no flavor of either Cranberry or Grape. It tasted like a poor copy of artificial grape KoolAid. There was nothing reminescent of real grape, it tasted totally fake. It left a sickly aftertaste, followed by a burning sensation on my tongue that lasted for over 30 minutes. And then stomach cramps. If you have had real OceanSpray CranGrape in the past and bought a generic copy that tasted like this you would immediately say “Wow this sucks, it is nothing at all like the real thing, it tastes like bad KoolAid.”

I did remember this drink used to have the ingredients “filtered water, high fructose corn syrup, concord grape juice from concentrate, cranberry juice from concentrate, ascorbic acid”. So I looked at the label to find what had gone wrong. The label now reads “Filtered water from concentrate, grape juice from concentrate, cane or beet sugar, cranberry juice from concentrate, carrot juice from concentrate, fumaric acid, natural flavors, sodium citrate, ascorbic acid, citric acid”.

They are no longer using concord grapes. Clearly it is white grapes, which have little flavor and are used as a drink sweetener, and then they are adding fake grape flavor. Don’t be fooled by “natural flavors”, that merely means the flavoring compounds are derived from turpentine instead of synthesized from raw chemicals. The Cranberry juice is far enough down on the list to explain why it can no longer be tasted.

Folks, what this drink is is nothing more than premixed grape-flavored KoolAid, using white grape juice and genetically modified beets for sweetening. It’s not CranGrape at all, and the correct price of grape KoolAid is 15 cents a gallon, not three dollars a half-gallon.

Congratulations OceanSpray accountants with MBAs from Harvard. You’ve destroyed another premium brand and replaced it with crap, all for a buck. No one is fooled by this though. This is not really a natural food product, nor does it taste good.

Mystery of the Million Molars

When I was 7 years old, we lived out in the country. My friend Wes knew about an old house that had been abandoned by a dentist. The dentist might have unexpectedly died or been killed, I can’t quite remember. We rode my pony (that I had bought with egg money I had raised) out to the homestead which was several miles from our houses. The abandoned property was in a forest of oak trees and the ground was always littered with oak leaves and acorns. The old board and batten house was locked up but outside there were many wooden tables one after another that were standing in the open outside behind the house in this oak forest, the occasional sunlight piercing through like rays in a cathedral. These long wooden tables were covered with stacks and stacks of little cases. Opening the cases revealed dental molds of people's complete teeth. It looked like they were used for making dentures. We would ride out there and sit in the shade and tell stories and talk and spend hours looking through these teeth and read the names on the labels and wonder about the people from years gone by that had had these molds made by a long gone dentist.

But that's not the strange part of the story.

The strange part is that a dozen years later, around age 19, I lived about 50 miles away from there. My friend Dee and I would go hiking in a valley near the interstate. It was a lovely area with yellow waist high grass that one forded as they ran through. You could duck and hide easily. I remember one time during these walks Dee ran into a coiled rattler snake she almost stepped on. It raised its head and started rattling. She started talking to it, “Hello there, I bet you are as scared of us as we are of you, aren’t you sweetie? It’s OK...” After a few minutes of this the snake calmed down and stopped rattling.

There was a small river there and a handmade wooden car bridge across it that led to a really neat playhouse that the unknown but awesome father had built. The playhouse had many rooms, two stories, electrical hookups and a small kitchen with a sink. It was really the coolest playhouse imaginable, but it was decades old, abandoned and falling apart. I would sometimes go sit there and draw in my sketchbook.

We found the related house that had been confiscated by the state when they put in the Interstate. The house was sealed up and there were notices on the doors that it had been confiscated by the government in an eminent domain action. I always respectfully ignored the house. Dee was not that way though and when I showed her the house she went up and kicked in a door. We then looked through the house. There was no furniture, but in one room was an abandoned meth lab. The other rooms were empty. I remember the ochre carpeting that indicated the house had been contemporary in the 60s or 70s.

We came into the garage as the last room. It was the only room that was not empty. In the garage, packed in cardboard boxes stacked to the ceiling against every wall were thousands of little cases containing —— dental molds.

Synchronicity, Pitaya

Last night I was reading an article that mentioned that three staple crops of the ancient Hohokam culture (the people of the southwest that lived in communities such as Casa Grande) were corn, mesquite, and pitaya. I hadn't heard of pitaya, so I looked it up, it is the fruit of the cactus Hylocereus undatus, known in English as Dragon Fruit. (Pitaya is used to describe the fruit of certain other cacti, that of the Organ Pipe Cactus is called Pitahaya Dulce.) I've had various cactus fruits but seen or heard of pitaya, even though I fancy myself an expert in exotic fruits and there are few I haven't heard of.

Today, following an unrelated link, I stumbled into a recent comic strip that featured the pitaya.