Minor Thoughts from me to you

Family Fun Try-It Movie Night…

Family Fun Try-It Movie Night. Tonight's dinner: pretzel brat corn dogs with a mustard cheese sauce.

Verdict: Delicious!

Pretzel Brat Corn Dog.

I'm not sure what I should have for lunch today…

I'm not sure what I should have for lunch today. Trying to decide between the Szechuan Duck Confit, Fried Chicken (w/ Honey Mustard Sauce), Shoyo Pork Ramen, or Gin and Ginger Shrimp Stir-Fry.

EpicLunchProblems

I have a 9am meeting on my calendar…

I have a 9am meeting on my calendar. I put it there. But I apparently didn't invite anyone. I didn't leave myself any notes. And now I have no idea why it's there.

I finished watching Hulu’s adaptation…

I finished watching Hulu’s adaptation of Marvel’s THE RUNAWAYS tonight. I’ll be discussing it with Adam on next week’s episode of The Golden Age.

I put the included (tiny)…

I put the included (tiny) packet of wasabi sauce onto my sweet chili turkey wrap. 🤯🤧🤯

Respect to people who use wasabi sauce regularly.

Don’t tell me that I’m…

Don’t tell me that I’m that not dedicated to this World Cup. I just watched the entirety of the Spanish language broadcast of Brazil vs. Switzerland.

Also, I’m skeptical that there were any ethnic Swiss on that “Swiss” team.

Living in humid weather is…

Living in humid weather is like wearing a steaming wet blanket. Sitting in the shade only cuts the heat so much, because you're still wrapped up in the steaming wet blanket.

School’s Closed in Wisconsin. Forever.

School’s Closed in Wisconsin. Forever. →

The New York Times provides an apocalyptic headline for this article by Julie Bosman. In reality, this is a story about one specific, rural school closing, with some notes about other tiny, rural schools that have also closed.

Lola was among the last students to attend Arena Community Elementary. After classes let out last Monday, the school was shuttered permanently by the River Valley School District, whose administrators say that unforgiving budgets, a dearth of students and an aging population have made it impossible to keep the school open. For the first time since the 1800s, the village of Arena has no school.

Arena Elementary is the second small rural elementary school in two years to close in the district, nearly 300 square miles of rolling pastures and dairy farms in southwestern Wisconsin. The one in the neighboring village of Lone Rock closed last spring. The district now has just one open public elementary school, in Spring Green, nine miles away.

Administrators say they hardly had any choice.

The numbers are there for anyone to see: The River Valley School District graduated 105 seniors this year, and expects only 66 kindergartners to start school in the fall.

Residents worry about what will happen to Arena, population 834, without the school. There isn’t much else on this two-lane stretch of Highway 14: a gas station, a cheese outlet, a cafe called Grandma Mary’s, beloved for its Friday fish fry and beef stroganoff.

But the reality of rural life in the Midwest, school officials say, is that younger people are fleeing. They want Starbucks and Thai restaurants, plentiful jobs and high-speed internet, and when they start families, they want schools with amenities and big, thriving athletic programs.

“In any small community, anywhere in this country, our kids grow up and move away,” said Mark Strozinsky, a River Valley school board member. “They go to college and get a job, but it’s not here, because the opportunity is not here. So who’s left here? Grandma and Grandpa.”

Two schools in the Portage school district in central Wisconsin closed several years ago after enrollment declined sharply, the district administrator, Charles Poches, said.

“You can’t have four teachers for 40 kids,” he said.

As the public face of the district, Mr. Poches said that he bore the brunt of residents’ fury at public hearings.

“It was hell,” he said. “We’d have 50 people, some who didn’t even have kids there but had gone to school there. They felt it was part of their community. It was very traumatic.”

Melissa Schmid, whose 10-year-old stepson, Evan, completed fourth grade this year, said she wished she had fought harder to keep the Arena school open. When the time comes for her 1-year-old daughter, she and her husband have decided to send her to school in a different district to spare her a long bus ride.

She worries about the value of their house. New people aren’t moving to Arena much anyway. But they definitely won’t now.

“We basically have a bank and a cheese factory,” Ms. Schmid said. “It’s not going to be a growing community.”

Communities are born, grow, mature, decline, and, eventually, die. This article tugs at the heartstrings, but it's not clear to me why we should try to stop what's happening, to make rural America great again. I understand how the existing residents feel. But the hard truth is that people increasingly prefer suburban and urban lifestyles to rural life. No amount of nostalgia or outside financial support is going to cause this rural district to grow again.

Wanted: a political party that's…

Wanted: a political party that's tolerant of pro-lifers, is pro-free trade and is pro-immigration. Bonus points if it's pro-marijuana legalization and in favor of removing occupational licensing barriers.

Is this the year that I finally join the Libertarian Party?

What is the most sophisticated piece of software/code ever written?

What is the most sophisticated piece of software/code ever written? →

Buckle in.

The most sophisticated software in history was written by a team of people whose names we do not know.

It’s a computer worm. The worm was written, probably, between 2005 and 2010.

Because the worm is so complex and sophisticated, I can only give the most superficial outline of what it does.

If you've heard this story before, you already know what this worm is and the effect that it had. If you haven't, then you should ready this story. It's incredible. All the more so for being true.

Trip Notes, Houston, May 2018

This trip has really been the best and worst of times. I've had a successful business trip, helping a client. I've had lots of fun with my co-workers. On a personal level, this trip to Houston has been great. It's simultaneously reminded me how much I genuinely love this city and how I could never survive the daily humidity.

And then there's the screwups. So many uncharacteristic screwups.

Monday: My luggage doesn't make it from Atlanta to Houston. I have to make a midnight trip to Walmart to buy slacks and a polo, to look vaguely professional for Tuesday's meetings.

Tuesday: I get my luggage and discover that I failed to pack any t-shirts, for after work wear.

Wednesday: I discover that I left my credit card at Pappasitos, after paying for everyone's dinner. Fortunately, our server was great and gave my card to a manager to stick in the store safe. I drive out there at 8:40pm and then discover that all of my the on-ramps and exits that I need to get back to the hotel closed at 9pm. I spend an extra 15 minutes taking detours and negotiating construction traffic, in order to get back.

Thursday: ??? A breathless world waits and watches with anticipation.

This entry was tagged. Personal

Reading Idea: A History of Judaism

A History of Judaism

A History of Judaism
by Martin Goodman
$25.17 on Kindle

What I've been reading

Imagine a scholarly history of Judaism, told from the points of view of the time, rather than treating so many events as lead-ups to later anti-Semitism: “My attempt to provide an objective version of Judaism may strike some readers as naive.” I found the book to be a useful mood affiliation jiu jitsu, plus it has plenty of information that competing sources don’t, most of all about the immediate post-Temple period. Recommended.

Congress Needs to Bring Back Earmarks

Congress Needs to Bring Back Earmarks →

I dislike Congressional earmarks, as I dislike all wasteful government spending. I've long viewed them as bribes that corrupt the political process, by inducing Congressmen to vote for legislation that they'd otherwise oppose.

I'm rethinking my opposition, after reading Tyler Cowen's essay at Bloomberg View.

In essence, earmarks give congressional leaders more control over individual members. Recalcitrant representatives can be swayed by the promise of a perk for their district. That eases gridlock and gives extreme members of Congress something to pursue other than just ideology.

But is more legislation always a good result? Advocates of smaller government should keep in mind that reforming spending and regulation requires some activism from Congress. Gridlock today is not the friend of fiscal responsibility, coherent policy, or a free, well-functioning capitalist economy.

Most of all, I think of earmarks as recognizing that compromise and messiness are bound to remain essential features of American government, and that, whether we like it or not, there is something inherently transactional about being governed. Earmarks are a risk insurance policy against extreme outcomes, and like many other insurance policies, in any given year they may appear a pointless waste of resources. Still, we should keep in mind they may be protecting us against the very worst outcomes.

My Favorite Medieval Film Is A Knight’s Tale

My Favorite Medieval Film Is A Knight’s Tale →

Not mine personally, you understand. This is the opinion of Michael Livingston, writing at Tor.com. And he makes a good point about using ahistorical means to communicate historical truths.

The scene now shifts to opening credits that unfold over scenes of the tournament and its crowd … all set to the tune of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”

A lot of critics were thrown at this point: they complained that using a soundtrack of classic rock for a movie that is set in the 1370s is tremendously anachronistic.

They’re quite right. The music of Queen is about six centuries off the mark for the movie’s setting. At the same time, as the director himself rightly pointed out, a traditional symphonic score would also be pretty damn anachronistic, even if we don’t think of it that way. There were no symphonies in the fourteenth century, after all.

The anachronism is just getting started, though, and how it happens shows that there’s something important at work here: before we know what’s happening, Queen isn’t just the background soundtrack for the audience: it’s what the tournament crowd itself is singing. And they’re singing it while doing the wave, eating turkey legs, and waving banners in support of one knight or another. Not one bit of it is accurate to history, yet it’s oh so perfectly historical.

Because we don’t live in the fourteenth century, we don’t have the same context for a historically accurate jousting as a person would have had back then. A tournament back in the day was like the Super Bowl, but a wholly accurate representation of the event would not give us that same sense. Rather than pulling us into the moment, the full truth would push us out of it: rather than fostering the connection between the present and the past, it would have emphasized the separation. So Helgeland split the difference: he included tons of historical accuracies with non-historical familiarities.

It’s brilliant and delightful fun.

This entry was tagged. Movies

MoviePass and Data Mining

MoviePass and Data Mining →

The Verge wrote an article about a spat between MoviePass and AMC. (MoviePass is a $9.99 subscription service that lets you watch up to one movie a day, in theaters.) I'm less interested in the details of the spat than I am in the information that MoviePass aims to turn its profit by selling the data about which movies its subscribers are watching.

It’s been clear for some time that MoviePass isn’t simply trying to find ways to bring more people into existing movie theaters. The subscription-price reduction came after MoviePass sold a majority stake to the data firm Helios and Matheson Analytics, Inc., and the change has allowed the company to jump from around 20,000 subscribers to 1.5 million subscribers as of January 2018. MoviePass’ ability to track what movies its customers are watching, and where they’re buying tickets, is valuable data for marketers, advertisers, and distributors. And Lowe has said that selling that data is a major way that MoviePass is going to make money. Not having access to AMC — the largest theater chain in both the United States and the entire world — could make achieving that goal more difficult, since it would be clear MoviePass’ data would be incomplete. There are good reasons AMC was the first chain MoviePass signed a deal with, and that importance is likely why MoviePass is being so aggressive around AMC now.

MoviePass isn’t trying to help movie theaters; it’s trying to use them to capture data it can sell. It isn’t trying to help people see more movies out of some altruistic bent; it’s hoping to spike attendance in the short term so it can expand the pool of people whose data it’s collecting. And when it doesn’t get the answers it likes from a chain like AMC, it’s willing to cut those theaters out completely, regardless of the harm that does to its customers or reputation. While a $9.95 subscription deal may sound great, it’s really only a good deal if it works consistently, at the theaters where customers want to use it. And as MoviePass’ CEO said, those theaters are subject to change.

I want MoviePass to work. Who wouldn't like the idea of watching 30 movies a month for just $10? But it's felt vaguely scammish to me ever since I first heard about it. Knowing that they're selling my data is somewhat comforting: at least now I know what the scam is.

There's even a positive way to look at this. Many websites and businesses sell my data without me feeling like I'm getting fair compensation for it. If I do want to sell my data, super cheap movies sounds like something that's more in the right compensatory ballpark than the norm.

This entry was tagged. Movies

Be Your Whole Self

Almost 13 years ago, I signed up for a shared hosting account on a little web host called TextDrive. I didn't know it then, but that was my introduction to a community that I'm still a part of today.

TextDrive was founded by Dean Allen, a man with a love for writing and for the ability of typesetting to make writing pop off of the screen. I wasn't a Dean Allen fan — I didn't come to TextDrive because of Dean. I came because TextDrive looked like a good hosting company for people who loved technology, and who loved to tinker on the web.

TextDrive was that. Of all of the hosting companies that I've used over the past 20 years, TextDrive was the best. Dean and Jason gave us a remarkable amount of freedom on their servers, while sparing us from the challenges of being administrators of our own systems. They were personable, with a seemingly endless supply of patience for our requests and the ways that we found to crash their servers.

But I found more than just a good web host. I found a community of the like minded. We all liked to tinker and to write. Some linked to tinker so much that they became members of TextDrive's support staff. The TextDrive forums were our shared campfire. (I mostly sat in the shadows). When TextDrive was absorbed into Joyent, we moved together to the Joyent forums. And when Joyent stopped offering shared hosting, we stayed in touch through Twitter and Slack. The community feels special because we each have different backgrounds, careers, and interests. We have different levels of technical skill. On the surface, it sometimes seems that we have little in common. But we're still united by that shared interest in writing and in tinkering.

Last week, I learned that Dean Allen had died. I feel his loss less keenly than others in the community only because I knew him less well than they did. But I mourn the loss of him nonetheless, because of what he did to attract so many like minded individuals. I've been shaped by that community in various ways and wouldn't be quite who I am today without them and without him.

Joel, a member of our TextDrive community, wrote some thoughts on Dean's passing, Retooling. I was struck by his thoughts and his Twitter summary of them.

  • For God’s sake, stay in touch
  • A good way to stay in touch is to keep blogging
  • Be your whole self online
  • Make the whole soup from scratch

I was especially struck by Joel's third point.

One thing about blogging, as opposed to clipping words into a stream of status updates, is that it gives you room to be your political self (say) without collapsing the rest of you out of sight. Dean’s politics were pretty clear to anyone who read him, and he was no stranger to the polemic, but he let himself be more than his politics, to such an extent that people who disagreed with his politics (including myself at the time) were happy to congregate together around him.

Maybe when we each have our own spaces to think and express ourselves, and when we Stay In Touch mainly by checking in on each other’s spaces, we do better at thinking together.

Politics (e.g.) are important. But, thanks in part to my experience with Dean and people at TextDrive, I can see that being inclusive, allowing ourselves to be and see more than our politics, happens to be good for our politics. The fact that they took this approach, and looked past my freshman twerpisms, was helpful for me at the time, and a factor in several changes-of-mind down the road.

I'm not good at being my whole self online. I'm an introvert. I'm very, very comfortable with my introvertedness. I'm not lonely. I'm perfectly content to spend an evening (or 10) with the quiet comfort of my own thoughts. That leads me to spend a lot of time having internal dialogs, forgetting that no one else can hear my constant conversation. And then I realize that's been two months since I posted anything, anything at all, on my blog and longer still since I publicly wrote anything of true meaning.

Joel's thoughts challenged me to make public interaction a priority. Post something, even if it's just a link to something that I found interesting. Post everything, even if it's political and might annoy people. Post about who I am — my whole self — my love for books, my nascent interest in comic books and console games, the boardgames that I'm enoying, the frustrations and joys of parenting, my complaints about American Christianity, everything.

I'm not sure how successful I'll be. It's a struggle to take the constant stream of thoughts in my head and focus on one long enough to freeze it and put it online. But I think it's worth doing. Community is important and I can only be a part of an online community if I'm willing to be heard.

This entry was tagged. Personal

A Parade of Flawed Arguments for Minimum-Wage Legislation

A Parade of Flawed Arguments for Minimum-Wage Legislation →

Don Boudreaux on one of my bête noires, the minimum wage.

Finally, when Ms. Kim writes that “The minimum wage isn’t a pathway to the middle class; it is a safety net to prevent destitution,” she reveals that she doesn’t understand the key problem with the minimum wage – namely, that it causes some workers’ earnings to fall to $0. However economically precarious one’s life might be when paid a positive market wage of less than $15 per hour, that life is far more precarious when paid $0 per hour.

Minimum-wage legislation isn’t a safety net; it’s a knife that shreds the safety net of employment opportunities in the market.

I think there are already people who want work and can't find it, at the current minimum wage. A policy that makes them more expensive to employ, a policy that increases the minimum wage, makes it harder for them to get a job. That seems counterproductive to me.

NFL Championship Game Sunday (2018 edition)

Here's how NFL Championship Game Sunday is going to go.

I'm going to take a nap.

I'm going to fry up some chicken wings.

I'm going to make my own version of Subway's Spicy Italian as a sandwich, with some quality lunch meats.

I'm going to watch the Jaguars take on the Patriots.

I'm going to head to church for an evening meeting.

I'm going to tuck my daughters into bed.

Finally, I'm going to watch the Vikings and the Eagles battle it out, on a length tape delay. This is the game that I'm really looking forward to.

This entry was tagged. Personal

Asking the Wrong Question

Asking the Wrong Question →

David Friedman uses the focus on affordable housing to illustrate how asking the right questions can lead you to different conclusions than you would otherwise get.

When someone moves into one house he moves out of another, which is then available for someone else to move into. If the development is built and the units are bought by people currently living in San Jose, the net result will be to increase the city's housing stock by almost a thousand units. Doing that will make more housing available in the city and lower its cost. The question the Mayor should be asking, assuming that what he is really interested in is the welfare of the citizens of the city and not merely his ability to control things, is whether the development will draw mostly from current residents or mostly from people who would not otherwise live in the city. Pretty clearly, that question never occurred to him.

The assumption of the Mayor–I think of city planners more generally–is that the way to get affordable housing is to build affordable housing. That is not the only way of getting it. The alternative, very common in the history of U.S. cities in the past, was for poor people to move into housing that had been occupied by, possibly built for, less poor people, vacated when the less poor people moved into newer and better houses.

The same way poor people get cars.

I thought this was very insightful.

This entry was tagged. Housing Market