The Rice Mystery

Here’s a mystery: why is bulk rice still in such short supply?

I could understand pre-packaged rice being in short supply, because of how the shortages have been created: virtually overnight, everyone has stopped eating at restaurants and relied on cooking for themselves. That has caused a sudden, tremendous, and unforeseen increase in the demand for retail food products.

Bulk grains, however, are not really a retail food product. They are a wholesale food product being sold by retail outlets. Bulk foods come in the same large packages that restaurants buy. If anything, there should be sale prices on bulk rice, because distributors should be trying to dispose of a glut of it, as restaurants are no longer purchasing the 50 lb. bags of rice that my local coop uses to fill the bulk bins with.

But no. Most of the rice bins in the bulk section remain empty as of today. It’s very strange.

The USA Drops the Ball, with Enormous Consequences

Insufficient amounts of testing and tracing infrastructure are in place, but it doesn’t matter: reopening is happening.

It also doesn’t matter that some areas are being more cautious than others. Well, it does matter, but not so much as one might wish it did. All a plague needs to keep spreading is for some areas to fester, mostly untreated, so that it can continue to spread and affect all areas.

Here Comes the Second Wave

It’s going to be a doozy. If you look at the curves, overall, they’ve barely flattened. The “low” point from which the resurgence is going to start really isn’t all that low, in other words. Things will reach crisis levels surprisingly soon.

At that point, there will be attempts to slam on the brakes, but it will be largely too late. Momentum will dictate the process.

Goodbye, Economy

The key fallacy of our time is the dichotomy of saving the economy versus saving more lives, because letting the disease rage mostly out of control will destroy the economy. Smarter capitalists like Bill Gates realize this. Even most economists do. Even nominally right-wing economists like those in the employ of the American Enterprise Institute have been making this argument.

One would think such an amazing (and unusual) amount of consensus might attract attention. Apparently not, at least on the political right. This is not a surprise; humans have an amazing ability to rationalize away inconvenient information.

Keep in mind that even if the pandemic stopped getting worse, the economy would probably continue to get worse for some time. Many businesses that are still alive on paper have been fatally wounded economically. As the inevitable happened to them, the economy would almost certainly sink further in the coming months.

Now there is going to be a second, more severe wave of infections added to that whole process. The conclusion seems inescapable.

Hello, Second Great Depression

It is theoretically possible for a massive stimulus program to address this. It was also theoretically possible for better testing and contact-tracing to be in place before the reopenings started. Just like the latter failed to happen, the former will not happen, either.

In order for such measures to be taken (basically, a second New Deal), there must be both the will and the ability. Neither exists. A large and vocal minority, given disproportionate political power by an antiquated system, won’t allow the measures to be put into place.

What measures (too little, too late) can be put into place will be doomed by corruption. Just like Trump cronies soaked up most of the aid in previous packages, they will in any coming packages. Money spent on relief will thus mostly go to waste. The show in Congress over relief measures is therefore mostly a show; the US government is incapable of preventing a depression.

The economy is even more global today than it was in 1929, and in 1929 it was already global enough that Germany was able to drag the rest of the world down for the ride when it entered an economic depression. Moreover, the United States is far more economically prominent today than Germany was then.

It therefore seems inevitable that the severe downturn will be global, a Second Great Depression.

I Think I’m Starting to See a Pattern Here…

I’m trying to package a Java program I wrote so it makes a nice, professional-looking “clickable” app, complete with a custom icon.

First up was the Mac. The Oracle-furnished packaging tools were buggy and did not exactly work as documented, but I finally managed to make a (crappy) package from them.

Then came Linux. At first I was at a loss as to what to do, then I decided to crib the package bundler that the jEdit build files used. It was a huge struggle, because it was your typical open-source project, almost completely undocumented. Eventually I managed to get it to limp along to completion and make a (nonworking) Debian package.

A day of struggle followed, trying to make the nonworking package work. Eventually I gave up on the bundler and decided to make a Debian package completely from scratch. That was surprisingly easy compared to the crap software I had been fighting with.

Then back to the Mac. Would the bundler that the jEdit team used do any better a job than the stock one shipped with the JDK? No, it would not. So I looked into what made a Mac application bundle tick, and it wasn’t that complex. The biggest hurdles were (a) finding the magic keyword to search on (“bundle” in this case), and creating an Info.plist file (doable once I located the documentation for them).

So I built that one totally from scratch, too. So now I’m two for two at it being less work to “re-invent the wheel” than it is to use an existing, off-the-shelf solution.

Next up: Windows. Just for yucks, I’ll give Launch4j a whirl, though based on my recent experiences, I don’t expect it to work, and I’m not planning on investing much time in trying to make it work, either. Who knows, maybe I’ll get pleasantly surprised. (Then again, probably not.)

Update: Well, I’ll be. Launch4j actually proved to be a time-saver. The most obnoxious thing about it is a bizarre insistence on four-part version numbers, but it turns out that’s a Windows thing (and it is documented), so it’s not the Launch4j team’s fault.

There Will Be No Fast Recovery

There is much debate among pundits as to whether we are now in a “V-shaped recession” or a “U-shaped recession.” The answer is neither, but particularly not the wished-for (short duration, quick recovery) V-shaped recession.

The reason is that this is not a typical recession. It was instigated by a pandemic, not by the more typical operations of the business cycle. There is no cure for the coronavirus, nor will there be for twelve to eighteen months at least.

The initial lockdowns will end, but that will not prompt a return to the old normal. The disease will still be out there, and it will keep flaring up from time to time, in various places. Each time that happens there will be a cycle of negative, confidence-sapping news stories followed by spate of necessary but costly social-distancing measures. Those measures won’t be so widespread as the present ones, but they will still be disruptive. There will be some recovery in the next six months (so, not U-shaped), but it will be only partial; the economic downturn will be far from over (not V-shaped, either).

There are whole categories of businesses whose models depend on large numbers of people congregating in one place that are not by any stretch of the imagination essential: sports stadiums, movie theatres, music venues, and so on. These are the last businesses that will be allowed to reopen; odds are that many of them won’t be allowed to do so until a vaccine is available.

By that time, the damage will have been done. Most of those businesses in the previous paragraph won’t be able to survive their prolonged shutdowns. They will fail, and after they fail, most will not come back. Cinemas, for instance, may become as unusual as coffeehouses once were in the USA: a cultural attraction that larger cities may have a few of, but which are absent from the vast majority of the country.

This is not a normal crisis that we are living through; this is a major crisis, on the scale of the two world wars. When you have a crisis this big, you don’t get the old normal back, ever. You get a new, different, post-crisis normal.

It’s not all gloom-and-doom, either. Two more likely victims of the coming permanent changes are urban gentrification and the decline of many small towns. Many of the professional class whose demand is responsible for skyrocketing urban real estate values don’t particularly even like the big cities their careers compel them to reside in. Widespread telework has been possible for well over a decade; the only thing stopping it was management inertia, and that inertia has now been dislodged. We’re unlikely to get the old normal of mandatory in-person office work back.

This will likely both take the pressure off urban real estate prices and act as an economic shot in the arm to many struggling rural areas, as formerly urban professionals relocate to them. (But not all of them, and not equally. Rural areas with abundant scenic and recreational opportunities will disproportionately benefit; Wyoming will fare better than Kansas. West Virginia, a scenic state not far from the Boston/Washington megalopolis, may be the biggest winner of all.)

Not just local economies will change in these states: politics likely will, as well. Those newcomers will take their politics with them, and will help their new home states become less right-wing over time. It’s already happened in Nevada, which used to be a reliably conservative state, and which now leans Democrat, thanks to millions of Californians moving to Las Vegas. (And if you think it far-fetched it might happen in Wyoming, check out how the county there most affected by people moving in for scenic and recreational opportunities, Teton, votes right now.)

The big cities, by contrast, will probably become affordable to many of those who have long been in danger of being priced out of them. This will happen at the expense of many real-estate speculators, who will find out that speculating in real estate is not a sure thing. Many of today’s upscale apartment buildings will become tomorrow’s downscale and affordable ones. It may become as much of a cultural trope for urban artists to reside in battered apartments that were once luxurious (possibly large funky ones created by knocking down walls from adjoining units) as it once was for them to reside in lofts converted from industrial spaces.

But, whether the changes are for the better or for the worse, they are coming. What is not coming back is the old, pre-COVID normal (and it is certainly not coming back quickly).

Ubuntu LTS 18 “Bionic Beaver” Font List

There’s no shortage of resources out there listing the standard fonts on various versions of Windows and MacOS, but references for the the same information about Linux seem to be very scarce. For the record, here’s what fonts are present on a freshly installed Ubuntu LTS 18 system (a “typical” install, which includes Libre Office):

aakar
Abyssinica SIL
Ani
AnjaliOldLipi
Bitstream Charter
Century Schoolbook L
Chandas
Chilanka
Courier 10 Pitch
DejaVu Math TeX Gyre
DejaVu Sans
DejaVu Sans Condensed
DejaVu Sans Light
DejaVu Sans Mono
DejaVu Serif
DejaVu Serif Condensed
Dialog
DialogInput
Dingbats
Droid Sans Fallback
Dyuthi
FreeMono
FreeSans
FreeSerif
Gargi
Garuda
Gubbi
Jamrul
KacstArt
KacstBook
KacstDecorative
KacstDigital
KacstFarsi
KacstLetter
KacstNaskh
KacstOffice
KacstOne
KacstPen
KacstPoster
KacstQurn
KacstScreen
KacstTitle
KacstTitleL
Kalapi
Kalimati
Karumbi
Keraleeyam
Khmer OS
Khmer OS System
Kinnari
Laksaman
Liberation Mono
Liberation Sans
Liberation Sans Narrow
Liberation Serif
Likhan
LKLUG
Lohit Assamese
Lohit Bengali
Lohit Devanagari
Lohit Gujarati
Lohit Gurmukhi
Lohit Kannada
Lohit Malayalam
Lohit Odia
Lohit Tamil
Lohit Tamil Classical
Lohit Telugu
Loma
Manjari Bold
Manjari Regular
Manjari Thin
Meera
Mitra Mono
Monospaced
mry_KacstQurn
Mukti Narrow
Nakula
Navilu
Nimbus Mono L
Nimbus Roman No9 L
Nimbus Sans L
Norasi
Noto Color Emoji
Noto Mono
Noto Sans CJK HK
Noto Sans CJK JP
Noto Sans CJK KR
Noto Sans CJK SC
Noto Sans CJK TC
Noto Sans Mono CJK HK
Noto Sans Mono CJK JP
Noto Sans Mono CJK KR
Noto Sans Mono CJK SC
Noto Sans Mono CJK TC
Noto Serif CJK JP
Noto Serif CJK KR
Noto Serif CJK SC
Noto Serif CJK TC
OpenSymbol
Padauk
Padauk Book
padmaa
padmaa-Bold.1.1
Pagul
Phetsarath OT
Pothana2000
Purisa
Rachana
RaghuMalayalam
Rekha
Saab
Sahadeva
Samanata
Samyak Devanagari
Samyak Gujarati
Samyak Malayalam
Samyak Tamil
SansSerif
Sarai
Sawasdee
Serif
Standard Symbols L
Suruma
Tibetan Machine Uni
Tlwg Typist
Tlwg Typo
TlwgMono
TlwgTypewriter
Ubuntu
Ubuntu Condensed
Ubuntu Light
Ubuntu Mono
Umpush
Uroob
URW Bookman L
URW Chancery L
URW Gothic L
URW Palladio L
utkal
Vemana2000
Waree

An Encouraging Development

Two groups of states, one in the Northeast, and the other on the West Coast, have formed pacts to continue enforcing social distancing until scientific evidence (and not the wishes of the Trump regime) indicates it is safe to relax such measures. Good: such a strategy probably is necessary.

But, some words of caution: Trump is not going to like this, not one little bit. Those governors better be preparing for a confrontation with the Federal government, because odds are they are going to get it.

Red States Are Gonna Get It Bad

Most (not all, there are noteworthy exceptions, see Ohio for example) of the so-called “red” states adopted a strategy of denial about the coronavirus. The bill for such a foible is coming true, and it will be a steep one, paid for in human lives as well as in dollars.

It’s tragic, because the line that big, dense cities are abnormally vulnerable to pandemics does have some truth to it, particularly in a world where cities tend to be ports of entry from foreign lands. The thing is, the advantages that rural areas have evaporates if they don’t make good use of their extra warning time to prepare.

We don’t live in a world where country-dwellers are mostly isolated anymore. The invention of the motor vehicle changed that. Rural people regularly drive to town for church, shopping, and other errands, interacting with numerous others.

The virus doesn’t care if it is passed from person to person in a small town or a big city. It took a while longer for infections to start getting reported from the more rural states, but here they are.

These later infections may even prove more lethal than the earlier big-city ones, for the simple reason that the best health care facilities are concentrated in the big cities. Those who get very ill in the hinterlands won’t have the same access to care.

The red states that are not sparsely-populated might be the worst off of all. Florida in particular seems to be a disaster in the making. Not only did you have a right-wing denialist government that refused to take the crisis seriously, you also had mobs of students congregating for Spring Break (without restrictions, thanks to that inept state government), and it all happened in a state with a huge concentration of elderly retirees.

Florida is also a barely-red state. (Obama won it twice.) The looming disaster there might prompt enough voters to politically recalculate that the Republicans will lose again this time.

A virus doesn’t care about your politics or your propaganda. It’s just hardwired to infect you.

Stop OSX Catalina From Shifting the Display

Keywords: OSX Catalina, Macintosh, hide menu bar, display, screen, shift, feature, disable.

TLDR: It’s an accessibility feature called Zoom. Look in System Preferences… Accessibility… Zoom and disable any gestures or keyboard shortcuts pertaining to Zoom.

As soon as I upgraded my newer Mac to Catalina, it started happening: whenever the mouse cursor got close to the top or the bottom of the screen, the display would shift slightly, by 20 or 30 pixels or so.

It lent an overall air of sloppiness to the whole user experience, yet it was obviously an intentional (mis)feature of some sort, because implementing it is non-trivial in code (it requires moving a lot of data around in video memory). There simply was no conceivable way this could happen as the result of a common coding bug. Finally, it had never happened to me before I upgraded to Catalina, and now it always happened, but only on the newer Mac that ran Catalina. The old Mac (which cannot be upgraded, due to it no longer being a supported product) simply never developed this behavior.

So I started looking through the system preferences for the obnoxious new feature. It wasn’t in the “General” or “Desktop & Screen Saver” sections, and I couldn’t see any other obvious place where it might be; nothing else obviously controlled a display issue like this.

The next step was attempting to find an answer via a search engine, but I also kept coming up dry. I gave up, having pissed away well over an hour on the issue by that time, and decided to try living with the misfeature.

But it was annoying, extremely annoying. I like to keep track of the time by looking at the digital clock on the right-hand side of the menu bar, yet the misfeature meant that about half of the menu bar was not visible, which typically made the clock illegible. I could address this by moving the mouse cursor up to the top of the screen, but it’s annoying to have to do that. I shouldn’t have to mess with my pointing device just to see the time of day.

So, I kept revisiting the issue, hoping to come up with the magic keyword that would eventually come up with the solution. Nothing ever worked.

Eventually, I broke down and posted something to Reddit, making sure to be irate and whiny (past experience has shown that an irate tone is more likely to generate responses for such questions).

Sure enough, it was a deliberate feature, one related to an accessibility (for the disabled) feature called, of all things, “zoom,” which is why I had been unable to locate it, or even find out about it via a search. I would have never guessed that shifting the screen like that had anything to do with zooming or magnifying the screen.

So many modern user interface design techniques come across as completely bizarre and counterintuitive to me. I don’t think OSX would even be a usable GUI to me, were it not for how I’ve disable feature after feature in it in the settings over the years.

Well, That Didn’t Take Long

As I predicted earlier, bad news about the pandemic has forced a presidential recalibration. What I missed is the nature of the bad news; I had assumed it would be horrifying general statistics. Instead, it turns out to be a tragic anecdote: one of Trump’s old friends became infected and quickly ended up in a coma in an ICU.

However it happened, it happened. The thing to be aware of is that Trump is nothing if not impulsive and immature. He could well forget about this sad anecdote, and return to pushing for a premature easing of social distancing. State and local governments still need to be quietly planning the best way to confront such a possibility.

The USA Needs a National Lockdown

If we don’t get one, we’ll continue to have what we currently do: patchwork measures. The problem with that, is that the areas that aren’t taking this thing seriously will then act as centers of contagion. Eventually, they will get the point of taking things seriously, but not until after: a) a significant amount of perventable death and suffering, and b) a great deal of wasted time.

Maybe that means we get to a national lockdown eventually instead of promptly. That means lots of wasted time to arrive at the inevitable.

Or, maybe we’ll never get to a national lockdown. Instead, the parts of the country that acknowledged reality sooner will eventually bring things under control, at the same time they are raging out of control in more backward regions. At that point, the less-backward regions will start relaxing controls, but likely with travel restrictions to protect themselves against the disease still raging in more-backward regions. Those restrictions (and the continuing disruption in the more-backward regions) will of course come at a continuing economic cost.

Either way, there will be a delay in getting things back on the road to more normal conditions, compared to what there would have been in just swallowing the bitter pill of a nationwide lockdown early-on. That delay will hurt the economy, of course.

That’s right, the very desire to not hurt the economy will end up hurting it more. As the classic TV ad goes, you can pay now or pay later.

We’re in a similar situation right now, of course. Had Trump prioritized testing and openness early on, the resulting bad news coming out of the testing labs would have tanked the economy. No doubt about it. But we’d be dealing with the cost of strategic regional lockdowns, and other even more finely-targeted measures, instead of the costs of the nationwide pandemic that we are now facing.

Think I’m making this up? It’s the gist of why über-capitalist Bill Gates is advocating aggressively taking economically painful measures ASAP. And Gates is not a random capitalist going off half-cocked with unsolicited advice; his foundation has been concerned with the threat of pandemics for years. He gave a famous TED talk about this threat in 2015.

We’re already paying more later. The only question is: do we now want to pay even more, even more later? (Keep in mind that any avoidable extra cost will be measured in human lives, not just dollars and cents.)