Showing posts from 2011

Microsoft Excel: The dumbest possible Undo ever

I was just reminded, again, how Microsoft Excel has the worst possible Undo implementation ever.

Instead of keeping track of undo actions separately for each file, it tracks them for all open files together. When you undo actions in one spreadsheet, you will be undoing actions in other spreadsheets you have open, too.

This is the stupidest possible design I can think of. It leads to data loss for anyone who relies on a reasonable undo feature when managing their documents. It is positively dangerous to have multiple Excel spreadsheets open simultaneously, since undoing in one document may lead to data loss in others.

Whoever designed this should be fired from software development, and made to flip burgers instead. There's no excuse for this idiocy in a software product like Office.

Dell is inept

For the last several weeks, I've been trying to unsuccessfully place an order with Dell.

Let me tell you, that company is inept.

The only reason I'm trying to place an order with them is because I want a powerful desktop replacement laptop, and they have the only one I can find with an 18" screen.

But goodness, it's practically impossible to place an order with them.

Because I live in the Caribbean, I cannot have the order shipped to me in the first place. They don't ship anywhere out of the US. So I have to bug a friend, or use a freight forwarding service.

So, I'm now ordering an expensive laptop shipped (against my preference) to the US, but the card I'm paying with is from outside the US. So my order gets canceled by their verification team.

I contact the verification team, they ask me questions, and they finally say okay, you can try ordering now. Can they reinstate my existing order that they canceled? No. I have to get in touch with their reinstatement de…

LOL Slovenia

I just found this gem:

Čas je, da gre politika v stečaj!

Apparently, Slovenia has had an issue with high-profile companies going bankrupt in circumstances that may have involved fraud (but probably involved state favoritism and incompetence). The legal system in Slovenia is incapable of punishing people responsible, so the parliament passed a law which imposes the following blanket punishment:

Everyone who had an ownership or leadership role in a bankrupt company is prohibited from co-owning or leading another company, for 10 years after the end of the previous company's bankruptcy proceedings.

Bankruptcies in Slovenia can take decades, so the effective duration of the punishment may be much longer than 10 years.

Not only that, but people who had an ownership or leadership role in a bankrupt company up to two years before the bankruptcy are also subject to the same prohibition.

Is that ridiculous, or what?

Who on Earth is going to want to run a business in Slovenia?

Suppose a company is i…

There are no healthy foods - only healthy diets

I'm not a nutritionist. However, for the last 5 years or so, I've successfully based my diet on the following suspicions:Popular nutrition advice is probably misleading and puts exaggerated emphasis on fresh fruit, vegetables, and "natural" ingredients.While some people are highly sensitive to additives, and others to a lesser extent, most people aren't.For most people, what matters in diet is, by far, calorie count. It's no use to be eating a vegetable rich diet if you eat so much you're overweight. Conversely, a restricted calorie diet will lose you weight, even if it consists of sugar and fat. As long as your diet gives you enough vitamins and protein, not being overweight is what matters most for health.There's no such thing as a healthy food. There are only healthy diets. What matters is how the numbers add up, not the individual things you eat.

In this CNN article, a KSU nutrition professor lost 27 pounds over two months on a diet consisting larg…

Costa Rica vs. St. Kitts for the fitness-minded IT professional

My wife and I are originally from Europe. We currently live in St. Kitts, and are considering a move to Costa Rica. We're returning from a 5 week trip to Costa Rica, where our intent was to see what daily life would be like for us. Here are our findings.

Health care
St. Kitts: There are foreigners living in St. Kitts, as well as medical and veterinary students from the US. Everyone we talked to has warned us to stay away from the local hospital. A student who visited the hospital reported shoddy hygiene in multiple respects, including a cow walking the corridors. People who need a serious medical procedure, and can afford to, go to Puerto Rico, or the US. If you need to go to the local hospital in an emergency, such as an appendectomy, you can expect worse scarring, and probably a greater chance of complications than in the US.

Costa Rica: Costa Rica is a medical destination for visitors from the US, providing high quality care at lower cost than available in the broken US healthcare…

Diamonds are a marketing campaign

This article is fascinating for showing how much larger than the stones themselves the diamond product is. The stones aren't the product at all. The product is public opinion about diamonds. The suppliers create public opinion through product placement and advertising, and control price both by controlling supply, and by marketing diamonds in such a way as to discourage resale, which has the potential of upsetting the price in a big way.

That is the diamond product. The stones themselves are inconsequential.

The article is from 1982. It doesn't seem like a whole lot has changed since then; but it would be fascinating to read of later developments in the story.

Saving democracy through compulsory voting?

CNN recently published a surprisingly starkly worded opinion piece titled Stupid voters enable broken government. The gist of the article is that we have governments we elect, and therefore governments we deserve.

But do we, really?

A commenter points out the following:Most eligible voters don't even vote. Only 37% did in the 2010 election. That means it only takes 18.87% of all eligible voters to get elected. And that means a candidate must pander to the bat shit crazies...because the batshit crazies are definitely voting.

It's very likely the other 63% of voters don't show up to the polls because they don't think the candidates represent their views. This works out to a feedback effect since if they did show up, their opinions would carry weight and the candidates would reflect their views.I've spent a fair amount of time contemplating the faults of democracy, but its salvation might be much more straightforward than I thought.

Edit: Wikipedia has a list of countries…

US Military Waste

Reddit recently had an interesting debate with someone who states he was a Contracting Officer in the US Air Force for several years, and was able to shed some inside light on US military waste.

We learn that things like $10,000 hammers are generally miscommunications. An invoice might contain maintenance work worth $10,000 and supplies worth $10, and the line items get swapped around; or the wrong product code is entered.

That being said, there's still substantial waste. It happens as follows:For many types of purchases, the military is required to look for a handicapped, veteran-owned, female-owned, minority-owned, or small business to buy from, before even considering e.g. Walmart. These types of businesses then buy the items themselves and resell to the military at a markup. This is effectively a subsidy program for business owned by veterans, minorities, and women.There are programs like NASA SEWP that buy products large-scale from contractors that buy from other contractors th…

Why women shave and wax

The hirsute women of Reddit, and the men who like them, have been downvoting my attempts to explain that the reason females remove their body hair is not just due to some mere cultural convention, but has deeper causes.

Here's the typical complaint:We're fucking mammals for fucks sake. Hair is not abnormal. The idea that a woman has to shave and pluck and wax in order to pass muster is abnormal. The solution is for you to stop being so shallow.I think my following response is my best so far:
The whole reason women shave and pluck and wax is because we're mammals. We have evolved to find people attractive based on their gender traits. We have evolved to associate a certain set of characteristics with manhood, and another set of characteristics with womanhood. Women shave and pluck and wax to differentiate themselves from males. A woman who does this distinguishes herself from women who look more like men. Therefore, females who don't wax are outcompeted on the sex marke…

The Unemployable

I'm not sure I even need to provide a link to the UK riots. There's already a Wikipedia page about it.

I've recently been considering an idea to which these riots seem to be related. This idea is about the marginally employable - or quite possibly, unemployable.

The society we have right now rewards talent. The more talent you have, the less you need to work to enjoy material comfort. If you have lots of talent, your work can be comfortable and fun, and you might make millions. If you have mediocre talent, you can still prosper if you work hard. If you have no talent, you need to work your bottom off to pay your bills.

With talent distribution being the bell curve that it is, there are bound to be unfortunate people with little to no talent. With talent being somewhat hereditary, a disproportionate number of these are likely to be born to parents who also lack talent. This means that people without talent are more likely to be poor, and the poor are likely to be stuck ther…

Reforming the economy with multiple currencies

Our national economies appear to be breaking at various points that are hard to fix without substantial reform.

I suggest that many problems within an economy such as the US that have traditionally been addressed by complex, intrusive, and not all that effective legislation, can be addressed more elegantly by redesigning money.

I propose splitting a national currency such as the US Dollar into three or more currencies. These currencies would be:
Consumption Dollars, used for retail purchases. Persons would obtain Consumption Dollars by exchanging Investment Dollars they receive as their income. The exchange rate would start at 1:1 and become progressively more expensive as a person acquired more Consumption Dollars in a certain time frame.Investment Dollars, received as income. All dividends, salaries and wages would be payable in Investment Dollars. This currency would be used to purchase companies and shares of companies, and could be lent to others who will invest it in this way. This…

Don't stop using soap just yet

So I did an experiment for you. For science.

This guy posted on Reddit about how he hasn't used soap and shampoo for a year. I've heard similar ideas before, so I decided to give it a try.

For over a month, I showered only with water. I never stopped feeling unclean. My hair had lots of dandruff. My scalp itched. Scratching it felt tacky due to the oil on my hair. I cut my hair to 1/3 inch, and it wasn't much better. A month went by. No improvement.

I used soap & shampoo again today. I finally feel clean. My hair smells good. My scalp isn't itchy.

Maybe not using soap and shampoo works for people who shower 3 times a day and swim in chlorine regularly, but it didn't work for me.

So scratch that theory.

The top 1% vs. the top 0.1%

Excellent article by an investment manager about the makeup of the top 1%:

Who Rules America: An Investment Manager's View on the Top 1%

The 99th to 99.5th percentiles largely include physicians, attorneys, upper middle management, and small business people who have done well.


Since the majority of those in this group actually earned their money from professions and smaller businesses, they generally don't participate in the benefits big money enjoys. Those in the 99th to 99.5th percentile lack access to power. [...] I speak daily with these relative winners in the economic hierarchy and many express frustration.

Unlike those in the lower half of the top 1%, those in the top half and, particularly, top 0.1%, can often borrow for almost nothing, keep profits and production overseas, hold personal assets in tax havens, ride out down markets and economies, and influence legislation in the U.S. They have access to the very best in accounting firms, tax and other attorneys, numerous…

The best, not the worst, must be teachers

Build a better educational system by taking a leaf out of Finland's book.

Interview with Tony Wagner:
[Finland] began in the 1970s by completely transforming the preparation and selection of future teachers. That was a very important fundamental reform because it enabled them to have a much higher level of professionalism among teachers. Every teacher got a masters degree, and every teacher got the very same high quality level of preparation.

So what has happened since is that teaching has become the most highly esteemed profession. Not the highest paid, but the most highly esteemed. Only one out of every 10 people who apply to become teachers will ultimately make it to the classroom. The consequence has been that Finland's performance on international assessments, called PISA, have consistently outranked every other western countryYou can't have good educational outcomes unless you have good teachers. I find it shocking how many countries are letting the teaching profession …

Heightism in online dating

I came across a heightism thread on Reddit today, and I found the following report stunning:

I made two accounts in different metropolises in the country using the exact same profile picture and descriptions but in one the height was listed as five foot seven and the other it was six foot three. And this was a "good looking" "handsome" "fit" guy.

The five foot seven guy? ZERO messages received first; ever. Not one. A reply rate back of less than 5% as well and most of those were from girls you'd describe as homely. And mind you this guy was attractive and fit.

The six foot three guy? He would get anywhere from 1-3 messages a DAY initiated from girls. And not just homely girls, but some very cute ones. I'd always ask why they messaged and they'd say it was due to a high match % or something listed in the profile interests. This guy would also get like an 75% return on his messages, and we're talking about from good looking girls here.

Funny eno…

Leaders against war on drugs

A panel of former and current politicians and world leaders have published a report stating the obvious: the "war on drugs" is a huge failure.Their report argues that anti-drug policy has failed by fuelling organised crime, costing taxpayers millions of dollars and causing thousands of deaths.


Instead of punishing users who the report says "do no harm to others," the commission argues that governments should end criminalisation of drug use, experiment with legal models that would undermine organised crime syndicates and offer health and treatment services for drug-users.So a group of people - from Kofi Annan, to Paul Volcker, Javier Solana, Richard Branson, and 15 others - go out of their way to speak out against this positively harmful, brutal, intrusive, puritanical "war on drugs", which criminalizes innocents, overcrowds American jails, wastes tens of billions, and fosters organized crime in countries south of the US, and achieves nothing.

How does …

Anonymity: The refuge of the frustrated immature

There are people who would have you believe that anonymity is somehow crucial to a functioning and civilized society, and that it's somehow essential on the internet.

It is not.

In the vast majority of my experience in real life and on the internet, anonymity is only ever abused.

In real life, people are much more likely to behave in ways that are harmful to others if they feel they aren't being watched.

It's the same way on the Internet. When people feel they are anonymous, they will do and say things they would otherwise never consider if they had to sign their names to it.

The vast majority of those things are harmful. Check any forum that allows anonymous posting. Under the veil of anonymity, people post things as if they have no capacity for self-restraint. Anonymous posts aren't thought out, they're overly aggressive, and are frequently meant to intentionally hurt others.

There's this movement, called "Anonymous", whose greatest achievement is that th…

The fate of anonymous digital currencies

I just recently found out about Bitcoin, a digital currency that strives to be anonymous and have no central authority.

Instead of there being a single, trusted, centralized issuer of the currency, the entire network of peer-to-peer nodes, formed by people who use the currency, acts as the issuer of currency, and verifier of transactions.

The technical overview sounds convincing, and while there could be glitches I'm not aware of, I have no reason to believe right now that the system is technically deficient. It is already used in practice and accepted as a currency by a few.

But here's the bottom-line issue.

In order for a currency to be useful, you have to be able to use it to buy bread and pay electricity. Virtually all local government prohibits such transactions from using anything but the locally mandated currency.

In order for Bitcoin or a similar currency to become more than a curiosity, it has to be perceived as reliably exchangeable to a local currency.

In order to …

Happiness gene identified

A gene has been identified which causes people who have it to report a higher degree of happiness than others. (The gene causes the brain to recycle serotonin more efficiently.)

I contend that it is now irresponsible and immoral to let a child be born without first ensuring that he or she has this gene.

Allowing children to be born without this gene is to create people who will be less happy than they could be.

Planes are harder to hijack these days

This story represents why planes are harder to hijack these days.

Never mind the (questionable?) security at airports. This guy was still able to bring a knife on board. But he could not hijack the plane. The passengers and crew didn't let him.

I predict there's no dark matter or Higgs boson

Face it, physicists.

There likely is no Higgs boson, and there likely is no dark matter either.

Our current theories are decent as far as they go, but we will likely need to discover a new theory, and undergo a paradigm shift, to understand what we now call "dark matter" and gravity.

EDIT - July 4, 2012: I guess it's time for me to eat my shoe! Apparently, a new particle was found at energies where a Higgs boson was expected. Congratulations to everyone involved in the discovery!

The education bubble

I really like what Peter Thiel has to say about education:
Education is a bubble in a classic sense. To call something a bubble, it must be overpriced and there must be an intense belief in it.
Like housing was, college is advertised as an investment for the future. But in most cases it’s really just consumption, where college is just a four-year party, in the same way that buying a large house with a really big swimming pool, etc., is probably not an investment decision but a consumption decision.
[W]e’ve looked at the math on this, and I estimate that 70 to 80 percent of the colleges in the U.S. are not generating a positive return on investment.His fellowship plans to "select 20 college students under the age of 20 and pay them $100,000 each to drop out of college and embark on entrepreneurial careers."

US vetoes UNSC resolution on Israeli settlements

See, this right there is the reason for 9/11. The whole world condemns Israel, but the US turns a blind eye:The US has vetoed an Arab resolution at the UN Security Council condemning Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories as an obstacle to peace.

All 14 other members of the Security Council backed the resolution, which had been endorsed by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

It was the first veto exercised by the Obama administration which had promised better relations with the Muslim world.
"Better relations with the Muslim world." ... Right.

Security "features" that hurt good guys more than bad

So, you're using Windows, and you want to enroll for a public key certificate.

You open up your Internet Explorer (because other browsers don't work), apply for the certificate, pay for it, receive it, and you think all is dandy.

Then, you want to export the certificate so that you can use it on another machine.

No go.

In their infinite wisdom, developers of Windows Vista made it so that private keys for certificates requested through the browser are automatically marked unexportable.

This is to "protect" the private key. You can't back it up or use it on another machine, but the bad guys also can't export it from your computer behind your back. Right?

Except the bad guys can. The private key is, obviously, stored on the machine. The operating system has to access the private key in order to ever use it. So the private key is there. All you need is a third party utility, such as Jailbreak, to work around the "protection", and there you go, you can export …

You have two cows...

Reposted from an internet forum.

1. FEUDALISM: You have two cows. Your lord takes some of the milk.

2. PURE SOCIALISM: You have two cows. The government takes them and puts them in a barn with everyone else's cows. You have to take care of all the cows. The government gives you as much milk as you need.

3. BUREAUCRATIC SOCIALISM: You have two cows. The government takes them and puts them in a barn with everyone else's cows. They are cared for by ex-chicken farmers. You have to take care of the chickens the government took from the chicken farmers. The government gives you as much milk and as many eggs as the regulations say you should need.

4. FASCISM: You have two cows. The government takes both, hires you to take care of them, and sells you the milk.

5. PURE COMMUNISM: You have two cows. You help to take care of them, and you all share the milk.

6. RUSSIAN COMMUNISM: You have two cows. You have to take care of them, but the government takes all the milk.

7. DICTATORSHIP: You have t…

IQs and opinions

Many people seem to assume that those who disagree with them on something basic must be stupid.

I understand the frustration of fundamental disagreement. I used to fall into this trap, too.

Then, I got a fair amount of exposure to a group of very diverse high IQ people. My most striking experience was that they are as likely to agree with you, as to have a completely opposite mindset, arguing things you would never consider reasonable.

It is appealing to equate a person's disagreement with one's basic values with stupidity, but this is usually not the case.

I like to compare IQ to the horse power of a car engine. A stronger engine means you can reach your destination faster, but it doesn't dictate where you're going to go.

You're more likely to find yourself in the same destination - having similar opinions - with a bunch of people with large IQ variations. It is appealing to characterize a person as smart because they agree with you, but again, this is not necessarily …

The baby-sitting parable for the economy

In 1998, Paul Krugman wrote this insightful article illustrating the Japanese recession, and the stagnation that followed, with an approachable and interesting parable.

Rich envy

Robin Hanson posts this insightful observation based on Scott Adams's suggestions on what minor vanity perks could be given to the rich as a reward, and motivation, for paying more taxes:Why do we tax the rich? If it is just because the rich have lots of money, and we need more money, then we should be pretty eager to take up something like Scott’s suggestions. Such policies could help us get lots more money at a relatively low cost to ourselves. But if we tax the rich more to lower the status of the rich, so they don’t loom as high above us, we are more likely to dislike Scott’s suggestions. Yes such policies lower the income status of the rich, but they might more than compensate via other very visible status markers.Societies don't tax the rich because of fairness, or because of the economy. By far the main reason so many people are in favor of "progressive" taxation appears to be envy.

Not money envy, but status envy.

We are the aliens to some

While we contemplate with doubt the possibility that aliens might be observing us, eluding us, and not contacting us, we are doing much the same thing to tribes in South America's rainforests.

Look at these guys peering at the airplane, wondering "what the hell is that?"

The researcher in the video says we should leave them the decision about whether or not to contact us. Consider the ridiculousness of that statement. How can they ever make an educated decision about whether or not to contact us?

Don't buy HTC

I like Android phones, but as far as specific manufacturers go, I wouldn't recommend HTC.

My HTC Desire, which cost about $700, worked fine for about 6 months, but then apparently overheated at one point from watching a video over Wi-Fi.

It then started having increasingly severe startup problems, rebooting constantly after turning it on, and now it won't start up and stay up at all.

Internet message boards are full of people reporting overheating and rebooting problems with this phone. In many cases, this is apparently fixed by sending the phone in and replacing its motherboard under warranty.

Unfortunately, my phone didn't come with warranty, so I'm out of luck. I'm back to my age-old Motorola which still works fine, without fancy technology.

Save yourself some trouble, and don't buy HTC.

Why culling "alien" species?

Scottish conservationists are expending time and effort to hunt down American mink and shoot them.

Their intent is to protect local species such as water voles and moorhen, who apparently cannot compete with minks.

Why the favoritism? Why should we care whether one species is predominant, or another?

It's one thing if a species, foreign or domestic, is causing direct damage to humans. But if it's just displacing one set of species in the ecosystem with another, what's the problem?

The ecosystem will adapt.

Why Slovenian media are... shit

I like to use accurate words. I prefer that words do not exaggerate, but convey that which is true.

In the title of this post, the words are, unfortunately, appropriate. Saying that Slovenian media are "poor quality", or something otherwise reserved, would be an understatement. "Poor quality" would indicate that they aren't as good as they could be, but they may still have uses.

Consuming Slovenian media is about as harmful as consuming that which should go in the toilet:Slovenian media will try to intentionally warp your worldview with manipulative, and frequently untrue, allegations about the moral, social and economic perils of Western society. This is mainly to support local politicians who distance themselves from the Western concept of justice and meritocracy, and instead put emphasis on privileges that "ought" to be available to all, and "national interests" that benefit a few. This harms the long-term development of the country, but pa…

Humane executions?

There's an interesting article on New Scientist about the drugs used in "humane" executions by lethal injection.

For the purpose of this article, let's set aside the contentious debate about whether execution is acceptable in the first place. Given that executions do take place, what would be the most humane method?

I think the very fact that prisoners can't choose their own method of execution is inhumane. There ought to be a selection of several approved alternatives, and the prisoner should be able to choose a method he, or she, is comfortable with.

I also find it fascinating that no state practices execution by substituting air with nitrogen. This seems to me more humane than the lethal injection method, which may very well involve suffering if the anesthetic fails.

When pure nitrogen enters the lungs, it absorbs oxygen from blood cells. Within a few heartbeats, the new blood entering the brain is devoid of oxygen, and the brain shuts down. There is no pain. The …

Parking law abuse in Miami

If you ever park a car in Miami, you may want to know that the Miami-Dade County cares a lot - in fact, it cares $23 - whether your car is parked this way:

... or this way:

Unfortunately, I was unaware of this factoid.

So, this past night, as my wife and I were contributing to the local economy by having dinner out in South Miami, eating sushi in the belief that our car is correctly and legally parked, officer "Y Isidor" took a look at our car, and after glancing briefly, decided that our mutual evening would be greatly improved if he issued this lovely request for us to help top up the Miami-Dade County budget:

And this is after I put all my coins in the parking meter, to make sure it would not run out - because, unlike many people I know, I actually care about correct parking.

So I logged on to the net tonight to find out more about how stationary vehicles can be deemed to be "parked against traffic", and I found the following opinions, gracefully provided by the inte…