Thursday, March 28, 2013

Another example of Limbaugh rhetorical bovine excrement

Ed Brayton of Dispatches from the Culture Wars writes of Limbaugh's discovery of yet another parallel between Obama and Hitler. Of course no Democrat, especially that Marxist Nazi Muslim with the funny colored skin in the White House, could possibly want at least the ACA for the sake of those who can't get anything but ER treatment. They must be pushing for it because it's what totalitarian murderers do. Right. Wing fruitcake, that is.

Raiders of the Lost Ark original brainstorming sessions - Boing Boing

This is just fascinating. George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan give us a look at the process of three of the major film creators of the last 40 years with a transcript of their creative process for Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

When workers aren't considered an asset there are consequences

Renee Dudley at Bloomberg writes about customers leaving Walmart for other retailers. Why? It would appear that in their attempt to cut the fat Walmart management lost track of where fat ended and muscle began. I have to feel that this is the inevitable consequence of the view of employees as a cost of business, not an absolutely necessary contributor to the success of a business. Many people have recognized for a while now that in spite of the ads they run touting their happy workers and how they call them Associates the reality on the ground just isn't that nice.

Full time non-management workers don't make that much. Part-timers make so little they can't afford health insurance and often are on state aid. Unions are hated so virulently that Walmart has a history of doing anything to avoid them, even destroying departments at every store when one store voted to unionize. There's even a WikiPedia article on criticisms of Walmart with a section on employees and labor relations. The attitude also affects Walmart's vendors since the only way that many of them see to meet Walmart's demands on them for price cutting is to send jobs overseas and it seems that adequately policing their suppliers costs too much in money and effort.

But Walmart isn't alone. The New York Times had a piece about the history of the rise of temporary employment. Those who have their own vested interests in the temporary placement of workers speak glowingly of how it can lead to full time employment. Of course the problem with that argument is that if it really was growing because of its use to help vet permanent workers the absolute numbers of temp workers wouldn't be growing at the rate it is even as permanent full time employment is barely budging. Remember that when you see the unemployment headlines you are seeing what the BLS calls U3. The really important number in terms of gauging what's happening to the American work force, though, is U6.

Consider this table from the BLS web site. It shows that in February even as U3 dropped to 7.7%, U6 was at 14.3%. The definition of U3 is
Total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian labor force (official unemployment rate)
U6 is defined as
Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force
with this note.
NOTE: Persons marginally attached to the labor force are those who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months. Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached, have given a job-market related reason for not currently looking for work. Persons employed part time for economic reasons are those who want and are available for full-time work but have had to settle for a part-time schedule. Updated population controls are introduced annually with the release of January data.

Those are just the economic costs to people in the work force, though. There is also the issue of safety. In an earlier post I pointed to an article on Salon that tells the story of a temporary worker who was not adequately trained for the work he was doing and not provided with the appropriate clothing or safety gear. The result of this negligence was a painful death. The Huffington Post had an article concerning a study that also linked the growth in contingent workers with increasing danger in the work place.

What does all of this say about the attitude that at least some business management holds towards their employees? The most charitable interpretation is that they are viewed solely as a cost of doing business. And when a human being is abstracted into an entry on a spreadsheet that subtracts from profits it becomes all too easy to ignore the costs that relentless labor cost cutting has to them as individuals and to us as a society, rationalizing it as something that has to be done for the sake of the company while not recognizing that it's bad for the company too.

Salon reports: When workers die: “And nobody called 911″

Salon's Jim Morris and Chip Mitchell expose a horrible dark side to our modern economy. A company can willfully create a dangerous work environment and even when it leads to a death there will probably be no criminal charges and even if there are it's likely to just be a misdemeanor. In the incident that is the core of the report there wasn't even a follow up inspection because the company provided documentation of the problem having been fixed. Given that the company asked an employee to lie to cover up the severity of what they'd done would you take their word on anything?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

MAD Artist's Edition looks amazing

Wow. I found this article on Boing Boing about Mad: Artist's Edition
and don't I wish that it would fit in my current budget. I've loved MAD for as long as I can remember and yes, I do think the earlier days of the magazine had a magic that the current one, though still a good mag IMO, doesn't quite possess.

NPR report shows how disability in the US relates to the job market

NPR's Planet Money has this report on the increase in the number of disabled in America. This report is one of the most honest I've ever seen on the issue. One fact it points out that far too many ignore is that many of those who have gone on disability aren't making up their health problems but could work if there were actually any jobs for them. The brutal truth is that there just aren't enough jobs in this country for the people who live here.

Large numbers of people deny this is true and use various metrics to attempt to prove their point. They really love to point to the number of ads for jobs versus the official unemployment numbers. There are multiple problems with this metric. For one thing the official unemployment number of U3 as it is called by the BLS doesn't include those who are underemployed currently who would also be applying for those jobs. U3 also doesn't count discouraged workers, those who aren't currently looking for work but who could re-enter the job market if only they thought there was something for them in it. It also, as this NPR report points out, doesn't count those who have gone on disability because they felt that was their only option. The reporter who did the piece for NPR cites a perfect example of the type of disconnect that exists many places in this country when it comes to jobs and the people who need them.

Over and over again, I'd listen to someone's story of how back pain meant they could no longer work, or how a shoulder injury had put them out of a job. Then I would ask: What about a job where you don't have to lift things, or a job where you don't have to use your shoulder, or a job where you can sit down? They would look at me as if I were asking, "How come you didn't consider becoming an astronaut?"

One woman I met, Ethel Thomas, is on disability for back pain after working many years at the fish plant, and then as a nurse's aide. When I asked her what job she would have in her dream world, she told me she would be the woman at the Social Security office who weeds through disability applications. I figured she said this because she thought she'd be good at weeding out the cheaters. But that wasn't it. She said she wanted this job because it is the only job she's seen where you get to sit all day.

At first, I found this hard to believe. But then I started looking around town. There's the McDonald's, the fish plant, the truck repair shop. I went down a list of job openings -- Occupational Therapist, McDonald's, McDonald's, Truck Driver (heavy lifting), KFC, Registered Nurse, McDonald's.

I actually think it might be possible that Ethel could not conceive of a job that would accommodate her pain.

The private sector (or the free market if you prefer) is completely incapable of doing anything about this problem. It has no interest in doing something about it. That's not their job, you see. Their job is to provide a service or a product that people will pay for and that they can make a profit on. Jobs are a byproduct. And in the modern world they are not an inevitable byproduct. Look honestly at the last few decades and you will find that the same Wall Street institutions that are now saying they are worried about the job market and how consumers have no money to spend are the same ones that have consistently encouraged publicly traded corporations to fire people in the name of cost cutting and increasing profits. If a business is actually having serious problems that can threaten it, this strategy is understandable. When they don't have problems but are just firing people to look good to analysts who have unrealistic expectations when it comes to growth they are eliminating assets as often as they are "cutting the fat". Where we find ourselves now is the result of decades of these policies. However the jobs are eliminated, whether by shipping the work overseas, automating them out of existence, restructuring the system so they no longer exist or using IT to enable fewer people to do the same amount of work the effect is the same. Fewer jobs exist and of those that do fewer of them pay a living wage.

The last sad truth that I think should be recognized when this issue is discussed is that there are those who remain convinced that the free market can fix it. They appear to believe that the free market can fix anything or at least come close enough that private charities can close the gap. There is no evidence that this is true. Appeals to history that claim that it has always been true are false and even if they were, the aphorism that history always repeats itself doesn't hold up that well when the world truly has changed in so many ways. It's a popular logical fallacy to believe in and one that will likely prevent us from finding a solution to this problem any time soon.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

How “dongle” jokes got two people fired—and led to DDoS attacks | Ars Technica

Ars Technica reports on an instance of social media firestorm hitting the real world big time. I tend to think that if the woman was offended by the joke they were telling she should either have let them know it then or just reported it to the PyCon organizers, not taken to Twitter with their pictures. But that's just a judgment call, isn't it? Now two people are unemployed and the ripples are hitting the employer of one of them and hurting other people's livelihoods. But the really bad part is how nasty these idiots attacking and threatening her and her former employer are. DDoS attacks on a business because of an employee tweet? And far worse, threats of violence against Adria Richards for a minor "offense" that isn't really any such thing? This isn't the first time that something relatively minor has escalated out of all reason, either. You really have to wonder about the people who choose to become so offensive because they are offended by something they see online.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Michelle Bachmann can't go too far her mind or the minds of her supporters. Not even when she says that Obamacare literally kills people. Unfortunately in today's GOP you can't go too far to the right unless it costs an election (See Akin, Mourdock, Angle, etc.).

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mega-eruptions Caused Mass Extinction, Study Finds

Well, it's more like study confirms and fills in the Details about what scientists already had strongly believed. It's one of the great things about science, the constant self-questioning and desire to get the answers just right or at least as close as we can. Whether it's because of technology revealing more to us or stumbling over new evidence we just hadn't found before scientists like finding something new that tells us more about the universe we live in.

Since fresh water is something that might get scarce...

...we should really hope that this discovery by Lockheed Martin pans out. The researchers think that this new material will make it much easier and cheaper to desalinate ocean water if they can scale up production of their new filtering material.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

NASA rep tell Congress the truth on asteroid defense

In Congressional testimony Charles Bolden is honest with a House committee. He tells them

From the information we have, we don’t know of an asteroid that will threaten the population of the United States. But if it’s coming in three weeks…pray.

Why? Because it's so easy to pretend that it will never happen so that money shouldn't be spent on it.

CBS News also reports on this and points out that Bolden also told the committee that

We are where we are today because, you know, you all told us to do something and between the administration and the Congress, the funding to do that did not - the bottom line is always the funding did not come.

Remember, government should be small and cheap no matter what.

Google Keep is live and ready to take your notes | Ars Technica

Google Keep sounds like an app that I'd like to check out. But it also points out what I consider one of the weaknesses of the Android system. I can't use it any time soon (if ever) because they're never going to update the OS of my Droid X2 and that's going to be my phone for the foreseeable future. I wonder how many others are in the same position?

Google Fiber Expanding to Olathe, Kansas | News & Opinion |

Google skipped several other affluent suburbs while moving their fiber service to Olathe. Maybe it was because Olathe offered them a good deal. But if you can do that, Google, any chance you could skip your way over the state line to the southeastern metro suburbs? Like the one I live in?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Newt Gingrich: GOP establishment must 'enter the age of the lightbulb' | World news |

So Newt wants the GOP to enter the age of the lightbulb. Of course it was invented 134 years ago. Most of the light in my house is from compact fluorescent bulbs, invented in 1976 and entering the market in 1995. By the time the GOP moves into that age of technology everyone else will probably have moved on to light emitting plastics.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Portman Announces Support for Gay Marriage | At the Races

This article from Roll Call refers to Senator Portman as a possible 2016 contender for President. After this he is not a contender in the GOP to win the primaries.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Giant New Telescope Inaugurated in Chile Today reports on the opening of the ALMA radio telescope. Between this, the Kepler and the future launch of the James Webb telescope there ought to be lots of interesting discoveries in the near future.

Time for a new RSS reader

Google to kill off Google Reader in 'spring cleaning' | ZDNet

Douglas Holtz-Eakin: Balancing the Budget Is Just a Sales Gimmick to Gut the Federal Government. And We Republicans Think It Will Work! [UPDATED] | Angry Bear - Financial and Economic Commentary

A balanced budget for the federal government, as the GOP and their sympathizers define it, is actually not a virtue. They don't really think it is one, either. It's just a way to begin the process of eliminating programs they don't approve of. First you kneecap the programs in the name of fiscal responsibility. After the gutting you pushed for has made the programs ineffective at their stated goals you then push for them to be eliminated because everyone can see that these programs are ineffective and therefore don't deserve funding.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Paul Ryan, Faux Wonk

"Paul Ryan punts on tax reform" is the headline on The WonkBlog at the Washington Post. I consider it yet another example of why those who consider him a serious policy wonk have been hoodwinked. Ryan's wonkishness is just a mask he puts on to cover up that his true self is someone who has never really left the rut that believing in Ayn Rand created in his mind.

Paul Ryan isn't really changing anything

Ed Kilgore at the Washington Monthly tells the truth far better than Paul Ryan ever does. Why don't Republicans like Ryan ever just own up to their goals and the core truth of their ideology? Probably because they'd never win another election because most Americans aren't as blinded by their ideology as he is.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Maybe some rethinking is in order for astronomers

So this afternoon I was looking for something to watch and came upon the History Channel's The Universe on H2. It was the episode entitled "When Space Changed History" and discussed how history has possibly been changed by comets and asteroids. A major part of the show dealt with the work of the Holocene Impact Working Group. Basically they go against the tide of mainstream astronomy by claiming that impacts are more common than believed and have affected the planet and mankind's history because of that. The show presents a balanced view explaining the cases presented both by the group and those scientists that disagree with them. One of the things the astronomers who disagree with the working group's hypothesis said, though, was that we should see far more close approaches than we do if they were right. As I was watching, though, I found myself wondering if in light of 2013 ET, 2013 EC and the Chelyabinsk meteor there might be some re-evaluation going on in some scientific circles. Of course there's always this information to consider as well. Maybe a lot more money for NEO projects just might be a good idea.

Cherry-Picking is Child’s Play | Open Mind

Tamino points out yet another example of cherry picking by people who call themselves skeptics. If they were really skeptics they wouldn't need so much cherry picking in their claims.

A better article on the "extended hockey stick" study

I had an earlier post on a new study that extends the data further back in time concerning the famous hockey stick graph but Ars Technica has what I consider to be a better article on the study so I thought I'd share it.

Are game companies capable of learning?

Slashgear tells us how EA hopes to make up to its users for the massive mess they made of the new SimCity. What did they do? They implemented yet another DRM scheme that requires server login every single time you want to play the game with absolutely no idea of what kind of server load they would get. The same mistake was made when Diablo III was released by Blizzard but it seems that EA has made an even worse mess of it. One reason I hate this kind of DRM plan is that with the modern state of computing you could buy a nice laptop gaming rig and then find yourself somewhere with no signal and be unable to play a game you purchased legitimately.

It's wonderful executive bean-counter moves like this that make me think the corporate world is full of folks who attended the same management school that produced the pointy haired boss in Dilbert. Remember, Scott Adams does like basing his work on real world situations.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Well, it might be hyperbole but Forbes calls Microsoft Excel dangerous

Microsoft's Excel Might Be The Most Dangerous Software On The Planet or so says the headline on an article by Tim Worstall at Forbes. I know that given one example he cites that it can certainly be misused and abused to great detriment. In fact, my jaw dropped a bit and a horribly cliche OMG slipped into my thoughts as I read this.

This is the headline at Mother Jones: The Scariest Climate Change Graph Just Got Scarier

Basically, the handle of the hockey stick just got longer according to a new study. What that means is just that the time period of reliably reconstructed climate data that doesn't show the kind of increase in temperatures that recent history has exhibited has gotten longer. If this study follows the path of the original study by Michael Mann and his associates it will be interesting, indeed. You see, while many are acquainted with those who have claimed to debunk the "hockey stick", far fewer realize that not only did those who made that claim never did any such thing, but that other studies using different sources of data came up with basically the same climate changes that the "hockey stick" graph showed. Mann has been vilified for his research and is constantly attacked as a fake and a liar but no actual research has debunked his research no matter how many people say so. As with any new study how well this one stands up is still unknown but the attacks and defenses will probably not wait.

Ezra Klein explains there's more than one reason for Obama's meetings with Republicans

Obama's dinner with Republicans isn't just to be charming. Ezra Klein at the Washington Post points out that there is an educational purpose as well. You see, some Republicans don't have any idea what the President really says. They, like their rock-ribbed conservative constituents, believe in a caricature of Obama that is presented to them by pretty much every source in the modern conservative echo chamber. They haven't looked beyond it to sources that might present a more balanced view of current events. Consider this example he presents.

The number of Republicans who don’t know what the White House is actually offering is stunning. Last week I wrote about a Republican legislator who didn’t know Obama had publicly said he’d be willing to move to chained-CPI.

Would it matter, one reporter asked the veteran legislator, if the president were to put chained-CPI — a policy that reconfigures the way the government measures inflation and thus slows the growth of Social Security benefits — on the table?
“Absolutely,” the legislator said. “That’s serious.”
Another reporter jumped in. “But it is on the table! They tell us three times a day that they want to do chained-CPI.”
“Who wants to do it?” said the legislator.
“The president,” replied the reporter.
“I’d love to see it,” laughed the legislator.

How common is this kind of ignorance among those who make our laws? Klein doesn't say. Probably because he doesn't know its extent.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The obvious sometimes needs pointing out

Andrew Sullivan points out someone making good arguments that seems just too obvious. Markets fail. The private market has severe problems with things like health care, where you can't just walk away from the deal. There are things that are good for society and for businesses that aren't profitable or profitable enough to interest investors or for-profit companies big enough to do what needs to be done. Yes, needs to be done, not would just be nice to do.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Another math challenged politician

Sam Brownback, governor of Kansas, says you can cut your state's income by 40% and still protect vital services. Who really thinks that will work? It reminds me of my issues with Reagan's promises about cutting taxes, increasing defense spending and still cutting the deficit. None of that worked then and I don't see anything that convinces me that Brownback and his fellow GOP governors who talk about eliminating income taxes can make their math work now.

Drop Some Climate Reality Into the Web of Denial Myths | DeSmogBlog

DeSmogBlog points us to a new tool to use when faced with the myths perpetuated by those who have to deny the realities of climate change. The more resources like this available to people who find themselves faced with constant cooked "facts" being presented to justify ignoring the scientific discoveries concerning what's happening to our climate and its causes the better. People like those at DeSmogBlog and Reality Drop do everyone a service.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Once upon a time geekiness was so uncool

The last couple of posts are what can happen when looking at links on Amazon that are like catnip to fans. I remember very well when people would think you were weird if you were interested in stuff like this. Now it's all over the internet (Geek paradise on screens.), takes a lot of space up in Wal Mart and is found in most major retailers. The world does get better in ways many and strange.

And for the coffee drinking Trek fan

My wife knows I have too many coffee cups already. I know no such thing.

This toy could be so much fun

Yes, NASA should get more research funding for projects like this

NASA - NASA Begins Flight Research Campaign Using Alternate Jet Fuel

The Wonder of Science has an interesting article on an unexpected discovery in near Earth space, a third Van Allen radiation belt. This belt was stable for a matter of weeks before a change in the solar wind hitting Earth eliminated it. As the scientists interviewed noted, it is one of the delightful things about science that new discoveries can still be found in places that were thought to be understood.

Best wearable remote I've seen

Andrew Sullivan's The Dish is not my normal source of tech news. But this looks very, very cool and as the title says, like the best wearable control system I've seen, capable of taking instructions by actually reading electrical activity of muscles for some very flexible and fine control functions.

Headlines mix up

So the other day skimming some "headlines" on Google news I see that the founder of "Girls Gone Wild" has filed bankruptcy in order to avoid losing everything to a couple of lawsuits. Another section of news asked the question "With No Pope Who Runs the Church?". And from the swirling electrical activity between my ears comes "Cardinals Gone Wild".

Krugman the semi-optimist

Paul Krugman thinks that we will soon see technology contribute a lot more to the economy. He points out that in reality so far it hasn't contributed nearly as much to economic growth as the previous major technological revolutions have but it's almost there. He also points out towards the end of the interview one big caveat, though. There's nothing saying that everyone will benefit. If things continue as they have it's quite possible that only the wealthy will benefit from that economic growth.