Which way is up?

You’re looking at the interface for selecting the publish date in WordPress. With it, you can backdate posts, schedule posts to be published in the future, or tell it to post your entry right now. It’s a simple enough interface that has an annoying quirk.

The day and year entry fields are, as you can see, numeric. But if I click on the Year field, for example, and hit the Up arrow key, the year is increased. That is, 2008 becomes 2009, etc. And if I hit the Down arrow key, the year is decreased. It’s a nice convenience feature. That feature works on the Day entry field, as well. That’s really nice when I make a post that I want published in a day or two.

And then there’s the Month entry field. Pressing the Up arrow in that field decreases the month! Really. If I tab over to that field and hit the Up arrow, the month turns to April. Ugh!

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why it works that way: the Month entry field is a combo box that has the months listed in order, from January through December. And if you click on the combo box the list of months drops down and you can scroll through them with the up and down arrow keys. In isolation it makes perfect sense. In combination with the Day and Year entry fields, though, it’s maddening. If I want tomorrow or next year, I hit the Up arrow. If I want next month I hit the Down arrow. Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh!

About the Moon: a podcast, a book, and curiosity

Everybody loves the Moon. But we, people in general, don’t know much about it. We know it follows an approximately monthly cycle and it has something to do with the tides. Oh, and 50 years ago for a brief period we sent some guys up there to check it out.

That’s really too bad. The Moon is fascinating. The unusual nature of the Earth/Moon relationship could very possibly be a major reason life developed on Earth. Or, put another way, without that particular relationship, it’s quite possible that life would not have developed here.

The Radiolab podcast The Moon Itself explores that relationship, and much more. Listening to it got me interested me enough to buy and read Rebecca Boyle’s excellent Our Moon: How Earth’s Celestial Companion Transformed the Planet, Guided Evolution, and Made Us Who We Are. It’s well researched and well presented, giving us a look at the science and the mysticism of the Moon.

Highly recommended.

By the way, it’s odd that of all the objects in the sky, we attach the definite article (“The”) to only three of them. The Sun, the Moon, the Earth. But we don’t say, “the Jupiter” or “the Titan,” “the Betelgeuse.” Even more curious is that, as far as I can tell, we use the Moon’s name to reference satellites of other planets. As in “Titan is Saturn’s largest moon.” Kind of like “She’s my girl Friday” refers to Robinson Crusoe’s servant and friend.

I also wonder if the “Holy Trinity” that I learned about in Catechism class can be traced back through earlier writings and associated with the celestial trinity of Sun, Earth, Moon. There’s certainly a whole load of mysticism associated with Sun and Moon, and I can easily envision a path for that evolution. Whether it can be documented is another matter entirely.

And another aside. I really like that Radiolab provides a text transcript of their episodes. While I’m driving I’ll hear something that I want to go back to later. It’s a whole lot easier to search the transcript than try to find a particular word or sentence in a 40+ minute audio file. Although I wonder if that will be the case for much longer . . .

Resurrecting the blogs

I’ve mentioned before that my blog went offline during the COVID lock down. I had an issue with my hosting provider that I didn’t handle promptly, and I ended up losing some data. My 100 Birds Project site went offline at the same time. I re-started the blog although until recently haven’t been posting much, and I kept saying “one of these days” I’ll restore the content that I lost.

In the last week, I’ve managed to get the 100 Birds Project almost completely restored. All that’s left is the bird index and then checking all the internal links for consistency. That work should be done before the end of next week. That was the easy one, with only about 110 pages.

Restoring my blog is going to be a much longer project. I haven’t counted them, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that there are 500 or more blog entries from 2007 to 2020. There’s no real rush, though. I could easily restore one month of blog entries a day and probably be done in a few months. Certainly by the end of the year. Likely, I’ll do it considerably quicker than that.

And then maybe I’ll consider converting my old blog entries (from October 2000 until March 2007) to WordPress. That’ll be a much longer project because I was … more prolific early on.

Oak burl bowl

Eight or ten years ago I was at a friend’s ranch to collect some wood from a fallen tree. While he was showing me around the property (about 300 acres), he asked me what those “big warts” were on his oak trees. I explained what burls are and how they form. He wanted to see what they looked like inside. We found a tree that was pretty clearly almost dead, and he went to work with his chainsaw. I ended up with two burls. I carved a bowl from the smaller one and gave it to Todd and his wife as a “Thank you.” I kept the larger one.

That piece of wood was about two feet long, 16 inches wide at its widest point, and five inches deep.

I drilled a bunch of holes in the top with the intention of letting the wood sit in the garage and dry for a while. Then I turned it over and removed the bark with the angle grinder. I also ground down a semi-flat spot for the base and finished it with the belt sander.

Then I got impatient. Why wait for the wood to dry? Why not rough carve it first, I thought, and then put it up in the rafters? A bowl with 1″ thick sides will dry a whole lot faster than a big ol’ oak burl.

So that’s what I did. It took me a couple hours of swinging that angle grinder to get the general shape of the bowl. I went over the whole thing with a 36 grit sanding disc, and then put it up in the rafters to dry for a while. That was June of 2016.

Four years later I was rearranging stuff up there in the rafters and I ran across the unfinished bowl. It was well dried by then. Happily, I had left the sides thick enough that it didn’t warp or twist horribly. I spent an hour or so touching it up with the big angle grinder and re-flattening the bottom (it warped a little bit), detailed it with the smaller (2″) Foredom angle grinder, and started hand sanding.

The hand sanding took several days. One thing I discovered is that when sanding oak burl or any other highly figured wood can be incredibly frustrating. It’s often very difficult to tell the difference between a tool mark and a natural feature of the wood. Up close, a whorl can look an awful lot like a tool mark. Or vice-versa. This becomes increasingly frustrating as sanding continues at the higher grits and the surface becomes smoother. I can’t remember how many times I was sanding at 600 grit, for example, and had to step back down to 60 or 100 to sand out a tool mark and then feather around it to smooth the depression. Fortunately, by the time I got to 800 grit I’d found and fixed all the tool marks.

I eventually sanded the entire bowl to 2000 grit, and the wood shone like nothing I’d ever made before. It was beautiful.

The slightly darker areas there are moisture. From 600 grit to 2000 grit, I sanded it wet. The dark spots are where the wood hadn’t yet shed the moisture. What astonished me about this was how smooth and shiny the wood was without any kind of finish on it.

I decided that I didn’t want to put any kind of polyurethane or varnish on the bowl, but I wanted something to preserve the wood and prevent it from drying out completely and crumbling. I’d had good luck with mineral oil in the past, so that’s what I used. It took two weeks and something more than a quart of mineral oil. I’d apply a coat of oil, let it soak in for a day, and apply another coat. I kept that up until the wood just wouldn’t absorb any more.

The bowl now sits on the living room coffee table (an oak stump that I shaped and finished). It is, I think, my personal favorite of all the things I’ve carved. I suspect I could be convinced, over time as I age, to part with most of my other carvings. But this bowl will likely be in my possession until the day I die.

Please tell me what to do

I think if I were a new user, I’d be stumped here with absolutely no idea how to proceed. I pressed the “Cancel Download” button on an Amazon Photos pop-up, and got this message box as a result:

(And before you say anything, the “three dots” menu up there just has notification options settings.)

The stated options here, as I see it, are:

  1. Cancel the download, possibly causing Amazon Photos to crash.
  2. Block the app. Which disables downloads until I go fiddle with the options.

But there’s a third option: Press the “X” button in the upper right corner and …? The popup text for that button says “Move this notification to the notification center”. But I have absolutely no idea what effect that will have on the download.

I think many users will be confused by this notification, primarily because it’s trying to convey too much information and in doing so fails to convey some critical information.

Popup notifications like this should present a clear and unambiguous warning message, and two options: do the thing, or don’t do the thing. Nothing else. Just those two unambiguous and clearly marked options: “Do It”, and “Don’t”.

But this notification is a mess. It does have a clear and unambiguous warning message. But then there’s this extraneous information about blocking the app, information that can only serve to confuse the user. And there are two clearly marked options. But they’re labeled “do the thing” and “do something else.”

What if I don’t want to do either one? Oh, well, that’s a third option, clearly marked by the “X” up there in the corner.

I contend that the “Block app” option shouldn’t be there. The text about blocking the app should be replaced with “To change automatic download settings, go to Settings > Automatic file downloads”. And the options should be “Cancel Download” and “Continue Download”. And the “X” button can continue to do what it’s doing (nothing, I think) to the download.

I don’t know what UI genius came up with this design, but I’m surprised that it was approved. Probably there’s some silly internal UI standards document that says notifications can have only up to two buttons. There’s nothing in the standards doc about clear and unambiguous choices. Somebody decided they needed three options, and used the dialog close button (the “X”) to provide the third. Technically, it meets the standard . . .

Estimating with π

I recently made a hat out of hardware store twine, a project I’ll write about here. Soon, I hope. In creating the hat, I of course needed to know how large to make it. So I had Debra measure my head. I then divided that by π to get the diameter for the hat layout. Nothing magical there, but it got me to thinking about hat sizes.

In the US, hats are sized in 1/8 inch increments. Like 6-5/8 or 7-3/4. The number is computed by measuring the circumference of the head in inches 1 centimeter above the ears, and dividing by π. An alternate method is to take the circumference in centimeters and divide by 8.

What?

An example. Debra measured my head at 23 inches. Divided by π gives 7.32. That’s easy enough. Also, 23 inches works out to 58.42 centimeters. Divide that by 8 and you get … 7.30. Close enough for hat sizing! (So, yeah, my hat size is halfway between 7-1/4 and 7-3/8)

That works because to convert from inches to centimeters you multiply by 2.54. And (2.54 * π) is equal to 7.97. Or, showing my work . . .

Hat size = (circumference in inches) / π
Circumference in centimeters = (circumference in inches) * 2.54
Hat size = (circumference in centimeters) / (π * 2.54)

It’s kind of a cool estimating trick. You can estimate the diameter of any circle by dividing the circumference in centimeters by 8. The problem of course is the unit conversion: measure in centimeters and get the result in inches.

When I need to estimate with π, I use a two-step process. First, I multiply by 3. Then I add five percent. For example, a circle with diameter of 7 inches has a circumference (π * D) of 21.99 inches. Estimating, (7 * 3) = 21, and five percent of 21 is 1.05, giving me an estimated circumference of 22.05 inches. The mental arithmetic of (times three plus five percent) is a whole lot easier for me than (times three point one four). Also, a simple (times three) is often enough to tell me what I need to know.

Or, if I’m dividing by π, I first divide by 3, which again is often enough to give me the answer I need. If I need a bit more precision I’ll subtract five percent. The result will be about one half percent less than the actual number. Again, close enough for a quick estimate.

I don’t often have to work with π2 when estimating, but a similar trick works pretty well. Just multiply by 10 and then subtract 10 percent. That is, π2 is about 9.87. So if you multiply by 10 and then subtract 10%, you’ll be about 3% high. Again, that’s close enough for a quick mental estimate.

Pondering ultimatums

I had cause recently to think seriously about the nature and use of ultimatums in leadership situations. I’ve come to the conclusion that the ultimatum is a tool that costs the leader much more than he gains, if he gains anything at all. It’s no surprise that I’ve never seen an effective leader use an ultimatum to resolve a conflict.

Before I go on, let me make sure we’re all on the same page. In leadership situations the ultimatum takes the form, “If you don’t do what I say, I will institute this [usually very unpleasant] punishment.”

It’s a tool from the carrot and stick school of leadership. When it works, that is, when delivering the ultimatum elicits the desired behavior, it does so because the subordinate desires the carrot, which the leader has control of, or fears the stick, which the leader also has control of. The leader can threaten to take away the carrot or threaten to apply the stick.

The leader delivering an ultimatum absolutely depends on the subordinate desiring the carrot and fearing the stick. The leader has, in his mind, a “can’t lose” situation: he’ll either get obedience, or the subordinate will suffer dire consequences. He knows that the subordinate won’t choose “or else,” because that’s unthinkable. This can elicit the desired behavior in formal hierarchies like the military, because the ramifications of the subordinate’s other choice are indeed dire: court martial or, in a combat situation, execution. It becomes much less effective as the superior/subordinate relationship weakens. For example, in a volunteer organization the leader’s “stick” is almost non-existent. He’s left with the carrot: the subordinate’s permission to participate.

Things go sideways for the leader when the subordinate no longer desires the carrot nor fears the stick. At that point the leader is powerless, but he doesn’t know it. He thinks he’s delivering the knockout blow, “You better do this, or else,” and is not at all prepared for the subordinate to select “or else.” At that point it’s the leader, not the subordinate, who has no choice. He has committed to a course of action and then surrendered control of the situation to the subordinate. The subordinate, who has already determined that the leader has nothing he wants and has no power to harm him, can then tell the leader, with impunity, to go stuff himself. The leader, even if he’s aware enough to realize that he has lost the battle, has no choice but to bring out the stick and attempt to flog the subordinate, despite the fact that his attempt at flogging makes him look like a fool.

If the leader is foolish enough to allow a subordinate to goad him into a public confrontation, then everybody gets to witness just how weak and ineffective the leader is. Not only does everybody see him fail to control the situation, they see him deploy his ultimate weapon and have it blow up in his face. The subordinate disobeyed, dared the leader to do something about it, and then laughed at the result when the leader took the bait. The leader exercised his authority, but lost the subordinate and the respect of anybody watching the conflict.

The ultimatum is a tool employed by weak and insecure leaders when leadership has failed. Even if it elicits the desired behavior, it does so only out of fear. It forever damages the relationship between the leader and the subordinate, and it will cause anybody who witnesses the confrontation to look at the leader in a new and much less positive light.

An effective leader, on the other hand, establishes control of a developing conflict and works to resolve the situation peacefully and privately. If he determines that there is no hope for an amicable resolution, he removes the carrot or applies the stick without preamble. The leader can do this because the subordinate already knows that he’s crossed the line. There’s no need for the leader to say, in effect, “You have one last chance.” Sure, the subordinate might not care and the leader’s assertion of authority might be meaningless. But he did it privately, on his own terms rather than in response to a final gesture of defiance by the subordinate: a defiance that the leader foolishly made possible and all too often encouraged by his behavior.

The ultimate result is the same, but the difference in perception is tremendous. In the case of the ultimatum, the leader is in effect saying “I will beat you into submission.” And when the confrontation ends with the subordinate still defiant, the leader is shown to be weak and ineffective. But the effective leader calmly saying, “You’ve left me no choice. I must institute the punishment,” the leader is seen as having done everything possible to resolve the situation, but regretfully had to drop the hammer. Even if the confrontation is public, if the leader remains calm and controls the situation he is seen as effective and the subordinate is seen as out of line. And the subordinate’s unconcern never comes into play because he’s never given the opportunity to make that last gesture of defiance.

The latest meme stock: DJT

During the meteoric rise of BitCoin in 2017, I wrote the following:


(Originally published November 28, 2017)

Gold Bitcoin Beanie Baby Bulbs

So, yeah, I’m not the first person to point out the parallels between the recent Bitcoin frenzy and the Dutch tulip mania of the 1630s. Nor, I suspect, am I the first to mention that Bitcoin’s meteoric rise bears shocking resemblance to:

I wasn’t around for the first of those, but I saw the others happen. I even lost a large part of my meager savings in the 1980 gold frenzy. Every one of these events saw people betting their futures on a “sure thing” that “can’t lose.” They were putting their entire life savings into it, borrowing heavily to gamble on a speculative market that seemed like it would just keep going up. And in every case, the bubble burst, wiping out savings in a very short period.

Those bubbles burst because investors flocking to the “can’t lose” scheme drove the prices to levels that were unsustainable. Early investors get in, ride the rise for a while, and then sell to new investors who want the same kind of trip. It becomes a positive feedback loop, until the price becomes too high to attract new investors. One day, somebody wants to get off and discovers that nobody wants to pay what he’s asking for his position. He decides to sell at a loss, at which point everybody else starts to panic and starts unloading as fast as they can, hoping to get out with something.

I don’t know enough about Bitcoin and other crypto currencies to say what, if anything, they’re actually worth, or if the idea of crypto currency has any long-term merit. But the the meteoric increase in Bitcoin prices over the last year, from $750 to $10,000, brings to mind those parallels, and a little bit more research reveals all the signs of a speculative bubble. The number of companies specializing in crypto currency trading has grown tremendously over the past year. There are “network marketing” schemes that pay you for “helping” others get in on the deal. New crypto currencies are popping up. People are borrowing money to invest. People are posting cheerleader messages (“Rah, rah Bitcoin!”) on social media. I’m seeing more hockey stick charts every day. “Look what it’s done in just the last three months!”

There may indeed be some lasting value to Bitcoin and other crypto currencies, just as there was lasting value in Beanie Babies. I saw some at a yard sale last week, going for about 50 cents each.


Proving once again that people looking for a quick buck never pay attention to past mistakes, we have invented “meme stocks,” the most memorable of which was GameStop. But I think the newest one, the social media company called Trump Media and Technology Group, will eclipse even that. This is the company that supporters of Donald Trump created after he lost the 2020 election and got kicked off of Facebook and Twitter for his actions. The new site, Truth Social, promising “no censorship,” was designed to prominently feature the insane ramblings of the Bumbling Buffoon, and users who contradicted his incoherent missives or said negative things about him were banned from the site.

The idea was always to create the site, create a shell company (a SPAC — special purpose acquisition company) to acquire it and take it public. The site of course had some trouble getting started and even today is mostly a joke. But they succeeded, after a lot of investigation by the SEC and others, in taking the company public. At a ridiculously inflated valuation and with a Trump-typical ticker symbol: DJT. I think the last public company the Buffoon in Chief formed was called TRMP. No surprise, it failed. But not before Trump bilked his investors out of their cash. I’m surprised he managed to escape that one without any criminal penalties.

Anyway, an “investment” in this new company is nothing more than a gamble. And not a very smart one at that. The company lost $49 million in the first nine months of 2023. Its total revenue–every dollar it took in–was $3.4 million. And yet the company is valued, based on the price of its stock and the number of shares outstanding, at something like $7 billion!

Yes, that’s right: the company’s market cap is 2,000 times its revenue, and the company is bleeding cash. Furthermore, the single largest shareholder is the Bumbling Buffoon himself, a person who has a history of taking “investors'” money, siphoning off enough to repay his own contribution, and running the company into the ground. At current prices, Trump stands to gain something more than $5 billion if the company lasts long enough and the stock price remains at its ridiculously inflated valuation. He can’t cash in immediately, though: there’s a holding period on his stock.

You couldn’t convince me to invest a single cent in any venture that’s associated in any way with Donald Trump, and even if the Prevaricator in Chief weren’t involved you couldn’t convince me to invest in a company that’s operating at a loss and is valued at 2,000 times its total revenue. In a rational world, the company’s stock would be trading at just that: pennies per share. What a scam.

Let’s settle on a newline standard

We’re, what, 70 years into the “computer revolution?” By the late ’70s, we’d pretty much settled on one of two different character sequences to denote the end of a text file line. Either a single line-feed (LF) character, or a carriage-return/line-feed pair (CRLF). Well, there was the classic Macintosh that used a single carriage-return (CR), but that’s essentially gone: the Mac these days uses the LF.

The history of line endings is kind of fascinating in a geeky sort of way, but mostly irrelevant now. Suffice it to say that by the late ’70s, Unix systems and those descended from it used LF as a newline character. DEC’s minicomputers, and microcomputer operating systems (like CP/M and later MS-DOS) used CRLF as the newline. If you’re interested in the history, the Wikipedia article gives a good overview.

And so it persists to this day. To the continual annoyance of programmers everywhere. There are Linux tools that don’t handle the CRLF line endings and Windows tools that don’t handle the LF line endings. Everybody points fingers and seemingly nobody wants to admit that it’s a problem that would easily be solved if everybody could get together and decide on a single standard.

Having come up with early microcomputers running CP/M in the early ’80s, I actually used a teletype machine as an I/O device. That machine required a carriage-return to return the print head to the leftmost position of a line, and then a line-feed to advance the paper one line. Thus, the CRLF line ending. Printers, too, required CRLF to start printing on the next line. If you just sent an LF then you’d get something like this:

The quick red fox jumped
                        over the lazy brown dog.

Instead of:

The quick red fox jumped
over the lazy brown dog.

And if you just sent a CR, you’d get the second line printing over the first. (I suppose I could try to figure out how to do that with HTML/CSS in WordPress, or post an image, but I don’t think it’s necessary. I expect you get the idea. The result is a single physical line with overprinted characters.)

I’d sure like to see the industry settle on a single standard. I don’t have a strong preference. LF-only seems like the more reasonable standard, simply because it’s one less character. It’s not like many people talk directly to printers or teletypes anymore: that’s done through device drivers. At this point, the CR in the CRLF line ending is nothing more than an historical remnant of a bygone era. There is no particular need for it in text files.

Microsoft could lead this change pretty easily:

  1. Fund a development effort to modify all of the standard Windows command line tools to correctly handle both types of line endings on input, and provide an option for each command to specify the type of newline to use on output. With the default being LF.
  2. Modify their compiler runtime libraries to intelligently interpret text files with either type of newline. And to output LF-only newlines by default, with an option of CRLF.
  3. Fund a “newline evangelism” group that advocates for the change, writes articles, gives talks, and provides guidance and assistance to developers who are making the switch.

It’d cost them a few dollars over a relatively short period of time, but it would save billions of dollars in lost time and programmer frustration.

It’s not a First Amendment issue

Anybody who tells you that the two indictments of Donald Trump (one Federal and one in Georgia, see below for links) concerning his unsuccessful attempt to defraud the American people by overturning the results of a free and fair election are in any way, shape, or form First Amendment issues is lying to you. They’re either ignorant of what’s actually in the indictments or they know but they don’t want you to know.

Neither indictment is about punishing the Bumbling Buffoon for his well-documented tendency to lie through his teeth. Nobody’s saying that spouting bullshit is against the law, even if you know what you’re saying is false. What the indictments are saying is that the sitting President of the United States entered into a criminal conspiracy to illegally change the results of an election.

“But he really believed that the election was corrupt.”

I don’t believe that. But let’s say it’s true: that Donald Trump at the time really was (and, what the hell, still is) dumb enough or stubborn enough to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that there was, as the Federal indictment puts it, “outcome determinative fraud.”

That doesn’t justify entering into a criminal conspiracy to violate the law. It doesn’t excuse filing official documents that contain false statements or opinions asserted as fact, especially when those statements are not backed up by anything approaching solid evidence. It doesn’t excuse the use of intimidation to influence witnesses. It doesn’t exonerate the attempts to convince officials to violate their oaths of office. It doesn’t excuse the President of the United States for suggesting to his subordinates that they violate the law. Those actions are crimes–felonies–regardless of whether one believes that in committing them he is somehow “righting a wrong.”

This isn’t new territory. We don’t let somebody off the hook for murder because they thought the victim deserved it: “The court found him not guilty, but I know he did it.” We call that vigilantism and as far as I know it’s illegal everywhere in the country.

Trump and his defenders will have you believe that he’s being persecuted because he’s a threat to Democrats in the 2024 election. They want you to believe that these criminal indictments are products of a handful of overzealous anti-Trump prosecutors who’ll use any excuse to prevent him from being on the 2024 ballot. They want you to conveniently forget that both indictments are brought, not by the prosecutors, but rather by ordinary citizens–a grand jury that’s selected from qualified citizens in the jurisdictions that the indictments are brought. The prosecutors present evidence to the grand jury and the citizens vote to determine whether the evidence presented is sufficient to charge the persons in question with crimes. They’ve decided that, yes, there is sufficient evidence to accuse Donald Trump and his cabal of co-conspirators with crimes: that there should be a trial.

The Trump apologists, the “what about” crowd, and those who seek to minimize the gravity of the alleged offenses are not being honest with you. These indictments have nothing to do with First Amendment rights. The Federal indictment explicitly asserts the defendant’s rights to say what they please, regardless of the veracity of their statements.

Do yourself a favor: read the indictments yourself.

Federal Indictment

Georgia Indictment