Michael Pollan’s *Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation*

April 29, 2013 Leave a comment
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Sick Day

January 7, 2013 Leave a comment

Sick Day: “Wikipedia path: Virus -> Immune system -> Innate immune system -> Parasites -> List of parasites of humans -> Naegleria fowleri -> Primary amoebic meningoencephalitis -> Deciding I DEFINITELY shouldnt connect an aquarium pump to my sinuses

(Via xkcd.com.)

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RIP Sir John Keegan

August 3, 2012 Leave a comment

Keegan’s work really opened my mind to some major issues and a greater understanding of war and conflict.

The Face of Battle was the book which put Keegan on the map, I guess, but it was his books on WWI and WWII which really were hits out of the ballpark. However the one which I found most fascinating was The Mask of Command, with sections about Alexander, Wellington, Grant and Hitler. I couldn’t put it down. I had a harder time with The Price of Admiralty, I think because, having grown up in the US rather than Britain, I just couldn’t get the right mindset around naval battles and different ships.

His book on the American Civil War is sitting on my nightstand right now, in the queue but not yet started. It was an interesting thing for him to make his final book, as he’d spent some time touring the those US battlefields before he took his very first job teaching at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst back in 1960.

The world has lost a gentleman and scholar with his passing.



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HBR Blog – on not hiring people who use poor grammar

July 27, 2012 Leave a comment

 I liked this blog note. I do wonder, however, if anyone over at HBR is detail-oriented enough to look at the URL.


I don’t think I’d hire people who use poo, either, though I suppose it’s really that there’s a right way and a wrong way to use it.

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North Dakota voters consider eliminating property taxes

June 12, 2012 Leave a comment


Of course, results aren’t in yet, but it’s a fascinating thing to consider.  Perhaps even more interesting than the attempt a few years ago to eliminate the income tax in Massachusetts.  The Massachusetts situation, had the measure passed, wouldn’t have been unique – there are several states without income taxes.  And they all make up for the lack of income taxes by taxing other things more highly – usually wealth and/or property.

Some consider property taxes to be the most insidious, as they may claim that it effectively turns all ownership into rental – you owe the government simply for the existence of whatever property that is.  You could lose your home.

But is it really that?  All taxes are a form of taking – the government (ie. on behalf of the rest of us) demand that some portion of income be handed over.  Is that any less a taking than assessing a tax on the simple ownership of property or assets?

Here in California, we have, for all intents and purposes, a halfway version of the North Dakota situation.  Property taxes go up a lot slower than the value of one’s property.  They are capped at 1.1% of purchase price and taxes go up with inflation, not with property values.  Property values have historically gone up faster than inflation, even in normal times, the effective rate of growth of your taxes is lower than that of the value of your property.  Then we have the property bubbles and the fact that at least certain parts of California have had property values go up *way* faster than inflation for a long time.  What this means is that folks who’ve had their property a long time are paying below-market rates of property taxes, while new owners pay full price, at least for a while.  This causes several distortions.  For one, the real estate market is very distorted – folks have huge incentives to stay in their homes as long as possible even if they no longer need that kind of space, would like to extract some of that equity to live off of, etc.  And that therefore drives up the price for the properties which are available since the supply is artificially constrained.  Moreover, new buyers of otherwise identical properties pay vastly more in taxes than folks who’ve owned properties for a long time, which is fundamentally unequal treatment.

The worse side effect, however, is probably on how the state raises revenues in general.  Since property taxes do not keep up with inflation or with the growing cost of government (which, by the way, also typically goes up faster than inflation since most of government’s expenditures, at least at the local level, are payroll for employees like teachers and public safety) – the difference has to be made up from somewhere.  In California, it’s through one of the highest income taxes in the country – with a steeply progressive tax structure.  The result of a steeply progressive income tax levied on a state where enormous amounts of the income is in the form of capital gains related to the growth of new companies (think Tech stocks), is that when the equity market is doing well, the state has higher income.  And when the equity market does poorly (especially in a recession), tax revenues fall off a cliff.  Moreover, folks whose wealth is mostly in the form of appreciated equity can choose when or whether to realize those gains or not.  They can move to another state before selling their stock.  They can borrow against their stock for years and years.  This makes for an absurdly unpredictable (and cyclical rather than counter-cycliclal) tax revenue stream and has led to the state’s vast deficits.  It’s a wonder anyone is lending California any money at all, yet for all the danger to the state’s economy, the fact is that vast wealth is still being created here and thus far, California credit ratings aren’t all that bad.

Nevertheless, what happens is that tax revenues are unpredictable, tax levies are unrelated to wealth or ability to pay them.  And the system just doesn’t make much sense.

In fact, it may well make more sense to go the other way – like Florida – and tax wealth rather than income – through a flat tax levied on both real property and on intangibles (stock and bond portfolios).  The main argument against property taxes really comes down to liquidity – it’s hard to sell off 1% of your property to pay your property tax bill, even if your property has gone up in value by more than 1%.  But it’s *easy* to do that with stocks and bonds.  Naturally, there are complications – not all property has an easily assessed value – things like private companies, intellectual property, etc – are messy.  Nevertheless, an argument can easily be made that a more fair system than we use now would be some combination of a flat and low asset tax on both real property and intangibles, in combination with some sort of tax which tries to balance out fairness by being assessed on non-public companies, intellectual property, etc (perhaps a tax which is a choice to pay whichever is greater – an income tax assessed on a  business or a property tax on your own assessment of the business’s value?).

The downsides to an asset tax are easily found, too, however.  It’s a disincentive to save and invest — why put money into stocks and bonds only to have it taxed even if the portfolio doesn’t perform well?  A huge swath of the population won’t pay any tax at all (is that so bad?  It’d really only be people who own nothing who don’t pay, at least not directly).

I really don’t know what the answer is, but it seems clear to me that North Dakota is, if anything, going in the wrong direction.  Instead of getting rid of the property tax, perhaps the property tax rate should be lowered a little bit, and the income tax eliminated in favor of an intangibles tax.  I’d like to learn more about how that really works out in Florida.

followup:  More than 76% of voters voted “no” to ending the property tax.  The measure was soundly rejected.  No surprise, but still fascinating.  <http://money.cnn.com/2012/06/13/pf/north-dakota-property-tax/>

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Upgrading to Lion

June 11, 2012 Leave a comment

Now that Apple is getting ready to release Mountain Lion (OS X version 10.8), it seemed time to upgrade my machines to Lion (OS X 10.7) so that when the new one comes out, I’m no more than one release behind.  I upgraded my notebook to Lion several months ago and it’s been perfectly fine, though there was some trouble with Quicken (which is probably good for a note on another day).  However, the notebook is my personal machine almost never used by anyone else.  Today I updated the desktop machine in our shared office, though, and the two other users of that machine are not necessarily prepared for the changes.  There are a couple which are something of a surprise the first time one uses Lion if one is already used to older versions of Mac OS X.  So I put together the following notes to help:

Some things you need to be aware of with Lion – things which may annoy you and which may be turned off and/or switched back to their “normal” behavior:

1. scrolling.  By default Lion assumes you want scrolling on the Mac to work like it does on the iPad – ie. you drag the content up and down rather than the window.  That’s backwards from how you’re used to scrolling on the desktop machine.  I still find it disconcerting and have turned this back to “normal” for myself.  You can do the same.  Once you log onto the office iMac, go to System Preferences (either click on it on the Dock at the bottom of the screen, or select it from the Apple menu).  Click on the Trackpad preference pane, and at the top of the window, you’ll see an option “When using gestures to scroll or navigate, move content in the direction of finger movement”.  It is checked by default.  Uncheck it if you prefer scrolling to work the way you’re used to.  Leave it alone if you want to give this a try.

2. scroll bars.  Like on the iPad, Lion defaults to not displaying scroll bars in windows except for when you are actually scrolling content.  To me, this makes sense on an iPad or iPhone with very limited screen space.  On a desktop machine, I prefer the useful information that there is more content to see, and the ability to scroll by dragging the scrollbar.  You may control the display of scroll bars in System Preferences->General.  You’ll see a “Show scroll bars” option, and the default is “automatically based on input device” and you may prefer to select “always” to have the machine behave more like before.  Note that while you’ll get the scroll bars back, they no longer have arrows pointing up/down to scroll by clicking.  You can still scroll by grabbing the bar as you always have, though.

3. Autocorrect.  Like the iPad, the Mac now tries to help you with your typing.  I kind of like it, and have left this on, but if it annoys you, you may turn it off, again, in System Preferences->Language & Text->Text

4. Resume.  When you quit an application and leave any windows or documents open, the system now assumes that next time you launch that app, you want those windows and documents re-opened.  I like this for my web browser, but I hate it for pretty much everything else.  This may be turned off via System Preferences->General and near the bottom of the window, you’ll see a checkbox for “Restore windows when quitting and re-opening apps”.  If you uncheck this but still want windows restored in specific apps, the apps may have their own private control over this (Firefox does, for example).

5. Resume (part 2).  When you log out of the machine, if you have any windows or apps open, again, the machine assumes you want them all restored automatically when you log in next.  If you don’t want that, there’s a checkbox in the little pop-up window which appears when you select Log Out. If you uncheck that box, it will remember that setting.

6. Java and Flash — are both not provided by Apple by default anymore. I’ve installed/updated both and will keep them up to date.

Anyway, those are the things which might take you by surprise.  You don’t have to set them “back” to behave more like you’ve been used to, but you should know that you have control over most of them.

There are some other features which are worth discussing, from Versions, which lets you walk through the history of a document within an application, rather like Time Machine lets you walk through the history of your files (and the impact that Versions has on some menus – there’s no longer a “save as…” option in Numbers or Pages), to Rosetta (which drove the Quicken issue), to Mission Control and Launchpad (both of which may be fully safely ignored) to whole-disk encryption.  But none of those is anywhere near as jarring as the reversed scrolling, and all may be addressed later easily enough.

One company makes fully half of the supply of a given product for the entire world

May 9, 2012 Leave a comment

and competes against hundreds of cheaper makers.  And you probably are wearing something which has their product in it right now – and you probably don’t know it, either.

It’s zipper maker YKK.

I thought this was a pretty cool article and always love to see a story about a company which demands perfection and works on it at every stage of the product’s creation.



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San Francisco circa 1955 – in cinemascope

January 9, 2012 Leave a comment

San Francisco circa 1955 – in cinemascope

Very cool.  It’s about 20 min. long, and may be downloaded in a variety of formats from here:


Oddly enough, having only recently gone to visit Alcatraz while some out-of-town family was visiting, while watching this I was wondering if they were going to show it or go over.  I’d forgotten, for a minute, that in 1955, when this was filmed, Alcatraz was still an active penitentiary, not a park or a place for visitors.

Given how famous Alcatraz is today – piece of history, star of film and story and place of legend – back then, how did people view it?  Did they think of it at all?

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January 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Just a helpful keyboard command on Macs.  Control-Shift-Eject immediately turns off the display.  This is very helpful for, say, putting a child to sleep in the same room where the computer lives…

Here are two great web pages filled with helpful keyboard commands for your Mac:



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WSJ Op-Ed: Stimulus Has Been a Washington Job Killer

October 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Well worth reading.  It’s absurd to think that short-term stimulus packages can have long-term effects.  There’s a difference between Keynesian “priming the pump” and Washington’s notion of “we will pump for you”.  The former may get us over the potholes in the economic road, but the latter  simply builds a ramp down into the ditch.  Eventually, with the latter, the stimulus goes away and we bump into the wall at the end.  (or, as the case may be, the inflated bubble bursts – think, for example, low interest rates and mortgage subsidies).

What we’ve needed – and everyone knows it – is tax simplification and restructuring.  And it’s got to be *permanent* not temporary with expiration dates which lead to more politics as usual as we approach expiration dates (think about the Bush tax cuts, the continual extension of unemployment benefits, the AMT patches, etc).


Stimulus Has Been a Washington Job Killer

The political graveyards are full of politicians who thought that temporary, targeted economic policies would get them re-elected.


Temporary, targeted tax reductions and increases in government spending are not good economics. They have repeatedly failed to increase economic growth on a sustainable basis. What may come as a surprise is that such policies are not good politics either. Their inability to deliver promised economic benefits has invariably led disappointed voters to turn against those politicians, Democratic and Republican, who have supported them.

Consider the evidence. When President Gerald Ford entered office, the economy was in the midst of the serious 1974-75 recession. Responding to the popular clamor to “do something,” he proposed a short-term stimulus plan in early 1975. The centerpiece was a temporary income-tax rebate. Congress added a one-time, $50 increase in Social Security benefits and, to bolster the sagging housing market, a one-time tax credit for new home buyers.

The rebate caused only a temporary blip in consumer spending. Economic growth rose to 9% in the first quarter of 1976 but then dropped to only 2% in the third quarter, and unemployment started rising.

Click on the following link to read the rest of the article:

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