moldybluecheesecurds 2

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Comparing Vietnam and Iraq

I went to an interesting forum tonight on the Vietnam War era of the Democratic Party. We had two speakers who addressed the parallels to today's conflict in Iraq (they expressly avoided the term "war") and the political issues it generated - namely, the internal conflict between anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy and Hubert Humphrey.

The event was notable for its conversation after the speakers addressed the group, including a number of these thoughts:
  • The draft: Would we be in Iraq if we didn't have the volunteer army, or so many mercenaries?
  • The opposition: is our familiarity with visual violence the difference between campus activism and apathy? I mean, how many Bruce Willis movies does it take to make me unimpressed by bloody videos from Iraq?
  • Peace: the opposition to Iraq is "anti-war." We changed the War Department to the Defense Department, but we still fight "wars." Are any of us for peace anymore?
  • Victory is defeat: it felt like the "war" could change when Democrats took charge of Congress in 2006. Why hasn't it? And why are we debating this horseshit instead?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A no speech zone is opened, but for how long?

Earlier today it was reported that Verizon had prohibited NARAL Pro-Choice America from using its text messaging service to send updates to interested subscribers. Although the company reversed course later in the day, the troubling precedent, and legal foundation, remain:
But legal experts said private companies like Verizon probably have the legal right to decide which messages to carry. The laws that forbid common carriers from interfering with voice transmissions on ordinary phone lines do not apply to text messages.
Historically, government has stepped in to require communications companies to relay any message, especially when there were near-monopolies on the service.

Professor Wu pointed to a historical analogy. In the 19th century, he said, Western Union, the telegraph company, engaged in discrimination, based on the political views of people who sought to send telegrams. “One of the eventual reactions was the common carrier rule,” Professor Wu said, which required telegraph and then phone companies to accept communications from all speakers on all topics.

Some scholars said such a rule was not needed for text messages because market competition was sufficient to ensure robust political debate.

Given the way that mobile phone companies lock users in to long-term contracts, I think there's a good argument for market failure when speech is suppressed. Especially when your Verizon alternatives are shit.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Al Franken brings some fresh air to the latest Iraq diversion

If you have been listening to Republicans for the past few days, the most important national issue is not the increasing quagmire in Iraq, is not children's health insurance, is not mental health parity. No, if you've been listening to Republicans you believe that the national priority is condemning a political ad in the liberal/commie New York Times. Sometimes it takes a humorist to see the humor in the situation (when BNL isn't available):
It is, of course, ridiculous that the United States Senate spent a day debating and voting on a resolution condemning an advertisement while our troops remained in Iraq, fighting a war with no end. And it's doubly ridiculous that [Senator] Coleman, of all people, is still playing politics with this issue.
So what's the appropriate dialogue for a nation at war?
There are more than 160,000 troops currently serving in Iraq. We should honor their service by providing them with the best possible medical care when they return. We should honor their sacrifice by refusing to allow this president to keep them there in the middle of a civil war. And we should honor them by taking seriously the difficult debate about the best way, or at least the least bad way, to end our engagement in Iraq.
It's shameful it takes a satirist to get us serious about this war.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Cupcakes - the "deal breaker"

I tried to think of a clever way to re-cast this article on the cupcake, but I really can't. Here's a tidbit on the challenge of excising cupcakes and other sweets from our fat kids' schools:
When included on lists of treats that parents are discouraged or forbidden to send to school — and when those policies are, say, put to a vote at the P.T.A. — “cupcakes are deal breakers,” Professor Nestle said. “It sounds like a joke, but it’s a very serious problem on a number of levels. You have to control it.” (emphasis mine)
And then there's the newly fashionable cupcake an its aficionados, whose recently closed high-end cupcakery drew some venomous detractors:
“At last!” said a blogger posting on “We neighbors get relief from cupcakistas who don’t realize Duncan Hines makes better-tasting cupcakes.”

After a long debate thread, another blogger wrote, “You people need to go back to the suburbs ... Seriously, bunch of grown up New York City residents obsessing over a cupcake shop. I miss the gunfire and crackheads.” (emphasis mine)

Homebuyers prefer glitz to green

A new survey of consumers shows that "energy efficiency" isn't a very popular home improvement option:
Just 69% of the 504 consumers polled in August by Shelton Group, a Knoxville, Tenn., marketing firm, would favor one house over another based on energy efficiency, down from 86% a year ago.
However, the other survey results are more complicated:
Consumers want proof that an energy-efficient home will save them money in the long run in order to justify the generally higher cost of such a home, Shelton claims.
Of course they do. That's kind of the point of energy efficiency, isn't it?
As it stands, ‘energy-efficient’ is consistently equated to ‘more expensive’ in the minds of consumers for products across the board,” Shelton said.
Well, that's probably because no one talks about "payback periods." If light bulb A costs twice that of bulb B, I may choose B. And then discover two years later that bulb A would still be working while B has been replaced. Think ahead, people.
When asked what they would buy if given an extra $10,000 to build a new home, 26% of survey respondents chose granite countertops, compared with 24% who favored an energy-efficient HVAC system. Twenty-one percent chose “additional tile or hardwood,” the same percentage who favored “upgraded or additional energy-efficient kitchen appliances.” (emphasis original)
This just makes me sad. Granite countertops are the latest home improvement fad, like stainless steel appliances or track lighting. Just wait 10 years and let's see what ends up being more valuable: those stone countertops or a high-efficiency air conditioner that gives you more disposable income...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The bogus threat of "radical Islam"

I love this columnist. Sometimes he talks about economics and gets it all wrong, and then he discusses foreign policy and gets it all right. (he did this back in May, as well).

Today's lesson: keep the "Islamic threat" in perspective. This is not your daddy's Cold War:

The collapse of the Soviet empire deprived us of what had been a central part of our political identity...That opposition helped define us, and its disappearance left a void.

Most of us soon got over the feelings of drift. But some people have dealt with the loss in another way -- by casting themselves in a grand revival of Armageddon. In this case, it's a titanic war against radical Islam, which often sounds like a war between Islam and the West.

This enemy, we are told, is the heir of communism and Nazism, which President Bush often invokes to justify staying in Iraq.

How far off the mark are these fomentors of wars? Let's look at some of the comparisons wrought between our modern enemies and those totalitarians we've previously cast down:
Start with Saddam Hussein, who was often compared to Hitler -- though his army, quite unlike the Wehrmacht, dissolved on contact with the U.S. military. His Iraq was secular, not Islamist, and if he posed a danger, it was to his neighbors, not to Western civilization.
But what about Osama, he's bad...
Osama bin Laden must rejoice to be depicted as endangering our entire culture and way of life. His movement has failed to gain power in a single country even in the Islamic world, and he hasn't been able to carry out an attack on American soil in over six years.
Almost every sentence in this piece is worth quoting, so I'll finish with Chapman's conclusion:
Radical Islamic elements pose a danger to our security that will demand vigilance, resources and, in some instances, military action. But let's not make it more than it is.
Mr. Chapman for Secretary of State (and as far from Treasury as we can keep him...)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Printing to a Windows XP shared printer from a Mac

The situation:
  • One Windows XP desktop with a Canon Pixma MP130 printer connected via USB
  • One Apple Macbook Pro (OS X 10.4.10) with a desire to print
  • One wireless network connecting the computers.
There are about seven different ways to do this and at least as many resource websites, but this site provided sage advice for getting the printer sharing to work.

So, here's what to do.

First, do this walkthrough. It will help you set up a Canon or other Windows printer to share with the Mac, allowing it to print via Postscript. (I didn't know what that was either). *Note: if this process seems to intimidating, you can simplify your life with a $70 solution - see #1 under "If you still have problems with printing."

Second, stop the walkthrough after Step 4! There's an easier way to add the printer to Mac OS X. Use my alternate Step #5:

Step 5: Add the printer to the Mac
From the Mac Printer Setup Utility select "Add Printer." While holding the Option button, click "More Printers." In the next window, select Advanced from the dropdown menu. Then for the Device, select "Windows Printer via SAMBA." For Device Name, pick a name you want the printer to be known as, such as "My Windows Printer" or "HP234534 PCL."

For the device URI, it gets fun. It already has "smb://" in the text field. Keep that. Now you want to point to where your printer is and there are two options.

4a) smb://Bob:12345@Workgroup/WindowsPC/Printer
4b) smb://Bob:12345@

Here's what that means. SMB means basically "Windows Printer." Bob is the username on your Windows XP computer. 12345 is Bob's password. If you don't have a password, then don't do the colon or the numbers, like so: (smb://Bob@

For 4a), the address of the printer is given via the home network. "Workgroup" is the workgroup, "WindowsPC" is the network name of the Windows computer, and "Printer" is the printer name. If you don't know these, do the following:
Click Start->Control Panel and open "System." On the second tab you will see your computer name and workgroup. That's 2 of 3 names.

For 4b), the numerical address gets you to the same place as Workgroup/WindowsPC.

For both, you still need the printer name. For that, you need the shared name of the printer. Go to the Control Panel again and select "Printers and Faxes." Right click the printer you're sharing and select "Properties." On the "Sharing" tab, it will show the shared name of the printer.

Add all that together and you'll have your printer address:
smb://Bob:12345@Workgroup/WindowsPC/Printer OR

Finally, you select a printer model. For any color printer, just select Apple Color Laserwriter 12/600 PS. The PS stands for "Postscript." For a B/W printer, select the Apple Laserwriter 12/640 PS.

Click Add.

You're done!

If you still have problems with printing
1. Drivers: the driver that came with your Canon printer (even the Mac one) doesn't work for printing to a Windows networked printer. If the postscript trick via Ghostscript doesn't work, you could also spend $70 on networkable drivers from Printfab. Instead of the whole Ghostscript business, you can simply share your printer in Windows, and find it via the network on the Mac, using the Printfab Canon drivers for it.

2. Ports: somewhere in the network printing business, you need to go through port 631. Make sure that's open on your router for all local addresses (e.g. those that start with 192.168...).

3. Static IP: I used my router to give my Windows computer a static IP. This may or may not have been the magic step, but it sure helps. If you want to do it for your router, try Googling "static IP [router brand]"

4. SAMBA: This is a fancy name for "print like Windows does." You need to make sure this Mac feature is turned on. Go to Applications -> Utilities -> Directory Access and check SMB. Then select SMB and click "Configure." You need to set the workgroup name to the same workgroup as your Windows PC (usually "workgroup" or "MSHome")

Snooty suburbanites resist clotheslines

Motivated by the potential energy savings and the reduced environmental impact, many people are looking at hanging their laundry to dry outside. After all, the wind and sun are free.
The clothesline was once a ubiquitous part of the residential landscape. But as postwar Americans embraced labor-saving appliances, clotheslines came to be associated with people who couldn't afford a dryer. Now they are a rarity, purged from the suburban landscape by legally enforceable development restrictions. (emphasis mine)
These are the same covenants that require "medium to dark tones" of house paint and a minimum of a two-car garage (preferably a large, bland edifice dominating the street face of the houses). And it's costly policy:

Clothes dryers account for 6% of total electricity consumed by U.S. households, third behind refrigerators and lighting, according to the Residential Energy Consumption Survey by the federal Energy Information Administration. It costs the typical household $80 a year to run a standard electric dryer, according to a calculation by E Source Cos., in Boulder, Colo., which advises businesses on reducing energy consumption.

Homeowners who are looking to do good by the environment and their pocketbook have been threatened with legal action from their associations.
Facing the threat of legal action, Ms. Taylor has in recent days resorted to hanging the laundry in her garage, with the door open slightly. But she says that denies her laundry the direct benefits of the sun and the fresh mountain air. She is thinking of moving to a less-restrictive neighborhood.
Good idea. Anyone who thinks a suburban subdivision represents the pinnacle of sightly design deserves a smack in the face.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Energyville: what's your energy mix?

Want to try your hand at developing a practical and environmentally-sound energy mix for a city of the future? Check out Energyville, a simulation by Chevron. You can select from several conventional and renewable power sources and the game rates your selection by its economic, environmental, and security impact.

How to buy a car without getting screwed

I had a conversation about car buying with a friend yesterday and then saw this video courtesy of Lifehacker. Favorite line? "You will seem like an asshole."

For more on getting a good deal on a car, check out this guy for information on everything from selling your existing car to financing your new one and getting a warranty without getting owned:

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Why Iraq? The real enemy is Al Qaeda

Senator Feingold notes that Al Qaeda is presenting a serious threat in North Africa and along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border and that we are supposed to be in a War on Terror, not Iraq.

The best question: [to both Crocker and Petraeus]: Which is more important, Iraq or Pakistan?

The answer? Nada. From both.

Second best: [to Petraeus] When will troops deaths start to decline in Iraq?
Petraeus: Uh...we've seen some declines in August.
Feingold: In every month of 2006, there were more dead than in the previous month...and you haven't even begun to [address my question].

Friday, September 07, 2007

Time to take a stand

Paul Krugman of the NY Times tells Democrats that the time for wavering is over. When General Petraeus delivers his report on Iraq in the next weeks, he's afraid there won't be much debate.
Here’s what I’m afraid will happen: Democrats will look at Gen. Petraeus’s uniform and medals and fall into their usual cringe.
Instead, Krugman says "get us out." He offers five reasons why Democrats should stop crumbling in front of Bush's handpicked military men.
  1. First, no independent assessment has concluded that violence in Iraq is down.
  2. Second, Gen. Petraeus has a history of making wildly overoptimistic assessments of progress in Iraq
  3. Third, any plan that depends on the White House recognizing reality is an idle fantasy.
  4. Fourth, the lesson of the past six years is that Republicans will accuse Democrats of being unpatriotic no matter what the Democrats do.
  5. Finally, the public hates this war and wants to see it ended.

"Popcorn lung" found in consumer

In May I looked at the weakness of OSHA under President Bush, illustrating its inability to enforce workplace safety with the issue of "popcorn lung." An ailment suffered by employees in the microwave popcorn business, it is contracted by inhaling the vapors of artificial butter flavor diacetyl.

Exposure to synthetic butter in food production and flavoring plants has been linked to hundreds of cases of workers whose lungs have been damaged or destroyed...Heated diacetyl becomes a vapor and, when inhaled over a long period of time, seems to lead the small airways in the lungs to become swollen and scarred.
Well, the major news outlets have finally taken note, probably due to a consumer whose persistent popcorn consumption led him to develop the same ailment that popcorn plant employees have been contracting for years.

The man told Dr. Rose that he had eaten microwave popcorn at least twice a day for more than 10 years.

“When he broke open the bags, after the steam came out, he would often inhale the fragrance because he liked it so much,” Dr. Rose said. “That’s heated diacetyl, which we know from the workers’ studies is the highest risk.”

Dr. Rose measured levels of diacetyl in the man’s home after he made popcorn and found levels of the chemical were similar to those in microwave popcorn plants. She asked the man to stop eating microwave popcorn.

And what do you know. Intervention works.

Six months later, the man has lost 50 pounds and his lung function has not only stopped deteriorating but has actually improved slightly, Dr. Rose said.

“This is not a definitive causal link, but it raises a lot of questions and supports the recommendation that more work needs to be done,” Dr. Rose said.

Maybe not definitive, but OSHA could take note: it's better to be safe than sorry.

The popcorn companies are taking note. Pop Weaver has already nixed diacetyl and ConAgra (Orville Redenbacher and Act II) promises to move soon. Of course, they're only doing this because of "consumer concerns," not because diacetyl is unsafe.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

How home buying turned into the stock market

This is an interesting look at the way the mortgage market changed from a tightly regulated way to ensure homeowners had the income to buy a house to a quick way to make a buck.
In the golden age of American home buying — the years after World War II — savings-and-loan institutions or government agencies supplied returning G.I.’s with fixed 30-year mortgages. Home prices appreciated, steadily but at modest rates, and lending fiascoes were rare...

...The world began to change in the late 1970s, when Salomon Brothers...pioneered the mortgage security...Instead of keeping his mortgages in a drawer, the banker on Main Street could unload his risk by selling them to Salomon. The banker was thus converted from a long-term lender to a mere originator of loans.
The game continued, with non-bank entrants into the mortgage market offering all sorts of products like adjustable-rate mortgages or allowing people much more house than they could afford.
Lenders and borrowers alike knew that such loans were dicey; they were counting on the borrowers to refinance — which, as long as home prices kept rising, was a cinch. Naturally, when prices stopped rising, the music stopped.
So what happens now? Some states are looking to help bail out the unfortunate borrowers who didn't understand how their mortgage was merely a risky investment by a Wall Street hedge fund investor. But how to do so without rewarding the investor, who ought to be left holding the tab for their poor choice.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Catching bad science in the news

There are dangers in giving the uneducated numbers, and thus it happens that many a study gets press by people who have no idea what it means. Thus emerged Bad Science, a blog for taking on the idiots (apparently in the British press). He has a nice article from last week on a survey purportedly reinforcing social norms about color preference (girls like pink and boys like blue). He guts it. And offers some fascinating context:
Back in the days when ladies had a home journal (in 1918) the Ladies Home Journal wrote: “There has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”
He also notes that these supposed "social norms" differ across cultures, something that the researchers found but that the media left out. The biggest leap beyond data was the idea that color norms (a social construct) could be measured by color preference - the subject of the actual study.

Perhaps a better title would have been: "girls prefer red, boys prefer blue. At least, Anglo ones do."