Friday, September 5, 2014

Zyzmog's Fourth Law of Motion

In May 2012, I listed Zyzmog's Three Laws of Motion, and two corollaries to the Second Law of Motion. I have recently discovered a fourth Law of Motion, which is as important - vital, even - as the previous three. The fourth law can be written two different ways. The words are the same, but the word order changes subtly:

Zyzmog's Fourth Law of Motion:
You can only drive your car.
or
Only you can drive your car.


This Law has serious implications that extend beyond the simple act of driving a car, and into the more complicated act of living a life.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Why I moderate comments

Many blogs have a rather free-form comments policy. I chose from the beginning to moderate comments on this site. Here's why.

Sometimes comments are inflammatory, or attempt to derail the discussion and take it in a different direction, or are personal attacks on the author or one of the other commenters. That's not what this blog is for. This blog is meant to entertain, to make one think, and to give me, the author, someplace to vent. Once I got an anonymous comment chewing me out royally for saying how I felt about someone — for showing some emotion and expressing an opinion. Um, am I not allowed to have my own feelings or opinions? If that's what you think, then you can go eat rocks.

Many comments say things like "Love your site, glad to hear you talking about this," followed by a link to someone else's site. That linked site is always spam. The comment is basically unpaid advertising. If I were to allow these comments, then anytime someone looked at my blog, the linked-to site would get a boost in its ratings, and some Web users would think that the site was reliable or trustworthy because its link appeared on my blog. I don't want to be responsible for that, and I don't want to give spammers any assistance. So these ones automatically get the boot.

I have approved comments that disagree with something I've written, or provide an alternative viewpoint. I'm not at all afraid to do that.

Most people who discover my blog like what they see. They like to read what I have here. I want to keep it that way, for their benefit. As for the rest, well, nobody's forcing them to read this stuff.

UPDATE, AUGUST 28: I received a comment on this blog entry today. It was a spam comment.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

I hate Microsoft's Click-to-Run.

For the record, I hate Click-to-Run.

I bought Microsoft Office 2010 Home and Student Edition two years ago. Taking advantage of the diskless download bargain prices, I bought just the product key and downloaded the bits, direct from Microsoft.

The thing ran fine, as far as I can tell, until this morning. This morning I really, really needed to type up some meeting agendas in a hurry. First, when I tried to open Word, it was very slow. It flashed a dialogue box at me that said something about Click-to-Run, which I didn't remember installing or activating, and the only option on the dialogue box was "OK". SO I clicked OK.

Once I was inside Word, every time I tried to do anything like open a recent file, or Save As ..., a message balloon appeared on the status bar, saying: "Microsoft Office is installing the required upgrades" and "Your office application may be unresponsive during this blahblah."

It turns out that Click-to-Run is meant for users on a broadband network, to get constant, unattended upgrades of their software. This is Microsoft taking control of my computer again. It makes no sense for a "Home and Student" computer to have this feature enabled by default. A corporate or office computer, perhaps, where a broadband connection can be assumed, but not home or student.

And there's no way to disable Click-to-Run. If you installed the software by clicking on the Download button, you've got it. The alternative to Click-to-Run is to install Office using the old-fashioned MSI installation package, and allow Office to inform you once it knows an upgrade is available. But Microsoft has very carefully hidden the MSI package so it's difficult to find.

I am following the instructions on http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/excel-help/click-to-run-switch-to-using-an-msi-based-office-edition-HA101850538.aspx to delete my Click-to-Run version, but the MSI version is not there, in spite of what the instructions say.

If this doesn't work, and if I can't find an MSI package, I'm ready to dump MS Office and go with LibreOffice or OpenOffice. Microsoft loses again.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Things you don't have to do when you don't have a dog

When you don't have a dog:

You don't have to put the couch cushions up when you leave the dog alone in the house.
You don't have to cover the living room furniture with blankets to hide the shredded cushions.
You don't have to find chewed-up books and other important stuff around the house.
You don't have to go through the ordeal of potty-training the puppy.
You don't have to clean the dog poop that's been smeared on every square inch of the bathroom floor by a puppy that didn't want to be left all alone while the family went out to dinner.
You don't have to shut all the bedroom and bathroom doors, all the time.
You can throw your used Kleenex tissues in any trash can you want to, because there's no dog to fish them out and chew them up and swallow them.
You don't have to chase the dog off the couch, off your bed, and so on.

You don't have to vacuum up dog hair every week. (However, you will find it in the vacuum cleaner bag for several months after the dog is gone.)
You don't have to pick dog hair out of the food you're preparing.
You don't have to tell the dog to shut up whenever someone knocks on the door or rings the doorbell.
You don't have to tell the dog to shut up when the UPS or FedEx truck goes down the street.
You don't have to tell the dog to shut up in the middle of the night when his snoring and whimpering wake you up.
You don't have to go sleep on the couch because he won't stop snoring and whimpering even when you tell him repeatedly.
You don't have to open the front door carefully or shut it quickly to keep the dog from bolting.
You don't have to drive around the neighborhood on July 5, helping your children post "lost dog" signs because he ran away during the fireworks the night before.
You don't have to carry him into the house after Animal Control returns him to you three days later, with the pads of his feet worn away and bloody.
You don't have to go to court, plead guilty and pay a massive fine, because he bolted out the door and bit the mailman one day when you weren't even home.
You don't have to rent a P.O. box because the mailman won't deliver mail to your house as long as you still own the dog.
You don't have to fight the dog to see who goes through the doorway first.
You don't have to deal with his incessant begging for food from the table.
You don't have to deal with him scratching or licking himself inappropriately in front of guests.
You don't have to take him for walks in cold, wet or otherwise miserable weather.
You don't have to pick up his poop, put it in a bag, and dispose of it in your trash can where it can smell up the place until garbage day.
You don't have to clean up after him when he poops or pees on the carpet.
Or when he vomits on the carpet.
You don't have to protect him from rambunctious little children who tend to run over him.
You don't have to take him to the vet when he overdoses on jars of pills he pulled off the counter.
You don't have to yell "it serves you right" when he eats an entire batch of something off the counter while your back is turned, and he looks at you with pure misery in his eyes when you notice.
You don't have to trip over him in the dark when you get up in the middle of the night.
You don't have to endure his cold nose waking you rather abruptly in the morning.
You don't have to worry about running over him when you push out your chair after a meal.
You don't have to step over him or yell at him to move while you're preparing meals or cleaning up after meals.
You don't have to take him to a kennel when you're leaving on a long trip.
You don't have to pick him up from the kennel and endure his enthusiastic welcome-home affections when you return.
You don't have to take pictures of him frolicking in the snow like a puppy, in the winter.


You don't have to wish you had taken video of him running at full speed, pure beauty in motion, in the fields near your house.
You don't have to imagine the rabbits laughing with glee as he chases them up and down the street at 11 at night.
You don't have to take him for rides in the car, and think of how much like a little kid he is, in that back seat with the windows down.
You don't have to sit with him and comfort him during thunderstorms or fireworks shows.
You don't have to sit and scratch his head, his back, his belly or any other body parts while he snuggles up next to you during a movie.
You don't have to feel even the least bit guilty about leaving him at home alone, yet again.

You don't have to endure his joyful welcome when you're the first one to return home in the evening.
You don't have to call out his name and listen for the sound of his tags or his footsteps when you return home.
You don't have to fill his food or water dish every day.
You don't have to receive his thanks for filling his food or water dish every day.
You don't have to give him doggy treats and see the look of delight on his face.
You don't have to make him do tricks for doggy treats.
You don't have to see him smile when he's playful or happy.
You don't have to waste perfectly good bacon or ice cream on him, or see the doggy joy in his eyes when you do.
The same goes for waffles.
And steak.
And anything with cheese.
You don't have to deal with him snuggling up next to you, or lying on your feet, or lying next to your chair, or nuzzling up to you and fishing for affection.
You don't have to envy him snoozing in that patch of sunlight on the carpet.

You don't have to pretend that you don't like him when people are watching.
You don't have to watch him slow down as he gets older and arthritis sets in.
You don't have to give your money to a veterinarian as easily as you would give it to a pediatrician, if only the doctor can make him stop hurting and be healthy again.
You don't have to worry every time he lies down, that he might not be able to get back up.
You don't have to wonder if he's in constant pain and just being stoic about it, because he doesn't want his humans to worry about him.
You don't have to make that agonizing decision about letting him live in misery or putting him to sleep.
You don't have to hold him in your arms and love him while he takes his last breath.
You don't have to watch his lifeless eyes staring at you as you gently lower him into that hole in the ground.
You don't have to endure being eaten by mosquitos as they fill the hole with dirt, burying him once and for all.

You don't have to scratch his name into the dirt of his grave as a first, makeshift memorial.

You don't have to keep finding his possessions around the house for weeks after he's gone, and enduring the heart pains when you do.
You don't have to miss him when he's gone.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Manufacturing Outrage

Someone on Facebook pointed me to a political blog called IVN, written by a published author and retired professor named Michael Austin. His blog entries are balanced and well-written. If you perceive a bias in any of his articles, bear in mind that it's an opinion, and a logical and well-supported one at that. You may or may not agree with his opinion, but that is precisely why you need to read this article.

The July 11 article, "Manufacturing Outrage," points out how the continuum between agreement and disagreement no longer exists. If you don't like someone's viewpoint or behavior, you slip past all the socially-accepted degrees of disagreement and go straight to outrage. This causes serious problems, as he explains.

I wish everyone who goes into spasms of outrage at the slightest provocation would read this article. Because blogs occasionally disappear or become unavailable, I am reposting it here in its entirety, with Mr. Austin's permission.

Manufacturing Outrage

Here’s an interesting little fact: to the best of my ability to recall, I have never seen one of my conservative friends post anything on their Facebook feed by Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, or Pat Robertson.

But my liberal friends post something outrageous by one of these commentators every day. When Ann Coulter wrote a column denouncing soccer as a symbol of America’s moral decline, I probably saw a hundred links to it. I forwarded it on myself.

But every single person who forwarded it did so with the intention of mocking it. A million people probably read Ann Coulter’s column that day just so they could laugh at what a Neanderthal she was. To my knowledge, nobody read it and agreed with her.

So Ann Coulter gets a million readers and makes a big pile of money so that liberals can smile smugly at their superiority, even as they drive another million readers to her site by forwarding her posts. Outrage, as it turns out, is kind of fun.

It’s fun for everyone, liberal and conservative alike. Though none of my conservative friends forward things by Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, quite a few of them forward nearly everything that President Obama says or does or is rumored to have done—normally with a statement like “there he goes again.”

I read, dozens of times a day, descriptions of Obama as a “tyrant,” a “dictator,” a “communist,” a “traitor,” and, of course, “the worst president we have ever had.” I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say that he is merely a bad president, or even one in the bottom quartile. Come to think of it, I have never even heard him described as the “second worst president we have ever had.” Millard Fillmore and James Buchannan get a pass—outrage only works with superlatives.

And this pretty much sums up our political environment today: we are outraged. Everything is outrageous. Obama is outrageous. Benghazi is outrageous. The Tea Party is outrageous. Ann Coulter is outrageous. Immigration, health care, contraception, the Supreme Court, Russia, Israel, Egypt, and the World Cup—it’s all outrageous, and it all proves that things are worse than they have ever been.

I suspect that this narrative prevails on both sides of the aisle because we really do enjoy being outraged. It makes us feel smart and special, like we are actually doing something noble by reducing everything to the most vile proposition we can imagine and then getting outraged about it. If we feel especially noble, we will go out on the internet and call people stupid. That’ll show ‘em.

And, at the same time, the political parties know that outrage works. It gets people to the polls, and, more importantly, it convinces them to donate to politicians and their causes. Not many people will donate to defeat a “mediocre manager with left of center positions.” But make them believe that they are donating to defeat “the most liberal, tyrannical dictator in our nation’s history,” and they will take out a second mortgage to support you.

Actual political argument is hard, while recreational outrage is easy. As long as we can fool ourselves into thinking that we are participating meaningfully in the political process–when all we are really doing is stoking our own outrage and that of people who think exactly like we do–then we will be at the mercy of people who know how to use our outrage to their advantage and our intellectual sloth as a way to make sure that nothing significant ever changes.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Common Core opponents are irrational - and ignorant

Forgive me getting a little overheated about this.

Right now, it's fashionable to trash the Common Core State Standards Initiative - or Common Core, as it's more generally known. However, after having read a lot of anti-CC articles (and comments on articles) on the Web, I have reached an important conclusion. Two conclusions, as a matter of fact.

1. Common Core opponents are irrational.
2. Common Core opponents are ignorant.

To illustrate their irrationality, I will point you once again to "Frustrated Parent." He couldn't figure out his son's math problem, and so he and the entire world blamed it on Common Core. I looked at the math problem in question. It simply presented another way to learn subtraction. As I explained in my posting about it, there are many different ways to teach subtraction.

Common Core does not tell you how to teach subtraction, but it allows for all those different teaching strategies.

To underscore the irrationality, I have been following the comments in another article about CC. One of the commenters was bashing CC because, to quote his words as well as I can from memory, it doesn't allow for the fact that there are many different ways to teach a concept, and it requires that the concept be taught in one way. Um, (a) nothing could be further from the truth; and (b) this directly contradicts the underlying notion behind the math problem that "Frustrated Parent" was bawling about.

As for ignorance, when I say "ignorant" I mean "stubbornly unwilling to learn (more) about a subject." I've read lots of comments by people who are spouting off authoritatively about something they know nothing about, when the truth is freely available, and easy to read, at the Common Core State Standards website. All they have to do is look it up. But they prefer to go on blabbering ignorantly about what they perceive as Common Core and all its shortcomings, unencumbered by facts or the truth.

Why are college kids so intolerant? Part Two

I have noticed that stuff on the Internet doesn't really last forever. It lasts until the publisher, copyright holder, or server administrator decides it's time to get rid of it. The Wayback Machine helps, but I doubt it can capture everything. Therefore, I decided to copy Matt Bai's excellent column and paste it right here.

I don't know if I can claim "fair use" for such a blatant copy. But I will include a link to the original: http://news.yahoo.com/don-t-blame-college-kids-for-intolerance--blame-us-085916423.html . And I will rewrite this posting to reduce Mr. Bai's essay to a bunch of acceptable excerpts, if he or the Yahoo lawyers ask me to.

Here, then, are Mr. Bai's words on the subject.


Don't blame college kids for intolerance. Blame us.
By Matt Bai
May 22, 2014 4:59 AM
Yahoo News

America's college kids are back and resting at home this week, which is a good thing, because during the long months away they seem to have gone completely out of their minds.

Last weekend, The New York Times' Jennifer Medina reported on the latest bizarre demand on campus: "trigger warnings" to let students know if the text they're about to study will expose them to some version of misogyny or homophobia, so they aren't unexpectedly traumatized by visions of things that can never be unseen – like, say, every novel written by a white man before 1960. That followed the public floggings of several commencement speakers whose invitations had to be rescinded, including such evildoers as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the International Monetary Fund's Christine Lagarde and Robert Birgeneau, the former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley.

All of this has provoked a torrent of eloquent condemnation from pundits and academics, who worry that our elite universities, in the words of an editorial published in Monday’s Washington Post, are being "impoverished by intolerance." Which is a reasonable concern, except that it misses the point. It's not the students' fault that they expect to laze around in a world of ideological comfort. It's totally ours.

There's nothing new about the basic tension between speech and sensitivity on campus. When I was at Tufts in the late '80s, at the height of what we called political correctness, we argued fiercely about whether the military belonged on campus or whether certain faculty members were denied tenure because of their politics. But, by and large, we were primed to have the debate, not chill it.

We'd grown up with TV news that tried to get at complicated issues (Ted Koppel's "Nightline" was the single most influential news program of the era) and op-ed pages that crackled with competing arguments. I remember meeting William Colby, the former CIA director, at a symposium. A lot of us were disgusted by the role he had played in Vietnam, but it never occurred to us that he shouldn't speak or that his beliefs weren't at least defensible.

It was reasonable to hope, with the sudden explosion of what we called cyberspace a decade or so later, that this kind of exchange would become more commonplace and more enlightening, rather than less so. Only that's not what happened. Almost from the moment the first iteration of political blogs appeared, not long after the 2000 presidential election that exposed a deep cultural rift in America, like-minded activists began to wall themselves off from any version of reality they didn't like. They set about building ideological silos in the space where virtual town squares might have thrived.

Our political leaders and our media might have recognized the danger here and done their traditional duty, which was to ignore all the noise, and focus instead on explaining the complex realities of a country in social and technological transition. With some notable exceptions, that didn't happen, either. Instead, politics in the past 10 years has become a perennial contest of the already converted, a constant pursuit on either side of "base strategies" and data sets that tell you exactly which voters you need to turn out in order to get and hold power.

Those of us who cover and analyze the news – whose central purpose it is to challenge our own preconceptions about the world, and yours – haven't really performed much better, and I'm not just talking about the partisan rehashing on Fox News and MSNBC. Many of our most respected columnists and academics, too, occupy the predictable extremes, where they can always rely on the clicks of a comforted audience. They use a smokescreen of empiricism to prove to you, over and over again and without fail, that everything you already believe is borne out by some selective poll or study.

What's happened is that we've effectively left behind the Age of Persuasion and ushered in the Age of Confirmation. It sometimes seems the whole world exists to re-affirm our conceptions of it; you can get through days, even weeks, without being at all discomfited, if you know which sites to visit and which channels to watch.

This isn't confined to politics. We target self-help books and superhero movies at consumers whose habits we know, rather than do the hard work of trying to convince anyone to broaden their minds. (Did you like Sheryl Sandberg's book? Then you'll love Arianna Huffington's version, which is pretty much the same thing, right down to the catchphrase title and cover photo.) Log on to Amazon.com, the supermall of the confirmation culture, and you will instantly be introduced to all of the books, movies and songs that are exactly like all the others you've purchased recently.

We have more options and access to information than any society in human history, and less inclination to avail ourselves of it. Maybe we're just overwhelmed.

So tell me this: What exactly did we think the effect of all this was going to be on the generation after ours? Today's college senior was born around 1992 and developed a political awareness just as blogs and social media were bursting into the American consciousness. Did we really expect these kids to emerge from the moment with a sense of intellectual adventurism? Were they supposed to just know that the entire point of literature is to discomfort you with no warning at all?

Did we think the characteristic that F. Scott Fitzgerald cited as the hallmark of first-rate intelligence – "the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and retain the ability to function" – didn't have to be taught by example?

Here's the good news. First, while the loudest students have been grabbing the attention lately, anyone who spends any time on campus these days (or who reads some of the better polling of the so-called millennial generation) can tell you that a lot of younger Americans appreciate that something is wrong with the way we talk to each other, or don't. They're distrustful of old political and media institutions and eager to build a more tolerant, less fragmented society than their parents have to this point. That's to their credit.

Second, it's worth remembering that for all the missed opportunity around us, we're still in the infancy of the Internet culture, a moment roughly analogous to where television was in 1960. Our instinct has been to retreat into safe communities online that reinforce our convictions and banish all doubt. But media evolves, and political dialogue with it, and I'm betting we will figure out how to hear alternate (and even odious) worldviews without need for a trigger warning.

To paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr., the arc of technology is long, and it bends toward enlightenment.