Not Oprah, Please

I mean, sure, she’d almost certainly be better than the current occupant of the White House, but “better than Trump” is an extremely low standard to set.

Plus, judging by the speech she gave, her candidacy would represent a doubling-down on identity politics (and a continued de-emphasis of class politics) on the part of the Democrats, which is just about the last thing we need.

On Facebook and Bicycle Head Lamps

Washington Monthly has a new article out detailing how harmful Facebook is and some ideas for liberal, big-government fixes for that. (Personally, color me skeptical about it; I’m not sure I want to give a government selected by populace stupid enough to select Trump more power to manage the information I see.) That’s after Facebook’s former chief technologist came out and said the platform is designed to promote addiction, and another Facebook techie boldly told his audience they were being programmed.

None of this is much surprise to me after having tried Facebook under an assumed name. My initial hopes of being able to follow what friends were doing via that platform were quickly dashed when I realized how fundamentally useless it is for such a purpose. Well, useless if one’s desire is to quickly keep tabs on what friends are doing; it buries that signal under a huge amount of noise.

It was pretty easy to tell the “noise” was there in an attempt to maximize the time I spent on the platform. In fact, I fell for the clickbait more than once. The overall impression it created was one of frustration at being suckered into wasting my time instead of accomplishing my initial goals for being there. Overall it lends a stench of sleaze to the whole site.

I occasionally check in, maybe once or twice a week, but that’s it. I can’t really imagine Facebook ever doing much to create significant improvement in my life.

Contrast that to the bicycle headlight I bought when I first moved to the Island. I knew I needed a different sort of light for my bicycles, one that lights up the road so I can see as opposed to one that mainly exists so I can be seen by others. I didn’t want it to depend on changing or charging batteries; I really liked my generator lights and how they were just always there, ready to be used when it got dark, much like the headlights and taillights on an automobile.

The obvious solution involved LED’s, because light-emitting diodes turn approximately 90% of the energy fed into them into light, instead of 90% into heat like for incandescent lamps. And sure enough, some research showed that such things had become available since I last researched the issue (and found to my disappointment such things didn’t exist).

They weren’t easily available in the USA, but I found a dealer for them that very conveniently was closing out the previous generation of such headlights, which lessened the cost (somewhat; they were still not inexpensive). And they worked as well as expected.

One piece of new technology has little or nothing to offer me, so I eschew it. The other fit nicely into my existing life, so I embraced it. I don’t have much use for religious superstition in my life, but I do have a great deal of respect for how the Amish have decided to deal with technology, by evaluating it and deciding if it offers a net improvement instead of mindlessly embracing it.

Fire and Fury, The Gorilla Channel, Fake News

First, Fire and Fury should not be taken as a serious information source. It’s written by an individual who might rightly be called the Donald Trump of journalism, given his lack of adherence to norms and past record of playing fast and loose with factual accuracy. He’s already been caught getting into the White House on false pretenses.

Second, it’s not as if Trump or anyone in his regime has much ground to stand on when it comes to complaining about such things.

Third, there is no Gorilla Channel. That’s a hoax. It wasn’t believable to start with:

I had never heard of any such thing, yet Trump is supposed to have had access to it in Trump Tower (but not the White House?). If it were a cable channel, you’d expect it to be available pretty much everywhere there is cable. If Washington, DC has an inferior cable system that doesn’t carry it, it wouldn’t be that hard to install an earth station at the White House to receive it.

They set up “a hastily-constructed transmission tower on the South Lawn” to broadcast it? Really? That tower would have attracted the attention of photographers; surely someone would have noticed it. And why erect a transmission tower for cable TV? Far simpler and easier to just modulate a signal and inject it into the coax. If over-the-air transmission is for some reason desired, a tower isn’t needed for a low-power signal, anyhow. This wouldn’t need to reach farther than a few rooms in the White House; it would be a simple matter to put an ultra low-power transmitter in a closet somewhere.

Fourth, the book’s general premise, that Trump is totally unfit for the job he finds himself in, is no big surprise and was obvious already.

Jones Shows Sanders Would Have Probably Won

Doug Jones won election from an overwhelmingly conservative state despite having liberal views on abortion that would normally cause the chattering classes to proclaim him “unelectable” there. And his other views tend to the left end of the political spectrum (by Alabama standards, anyhow) as well.

Yes, of course Jones won because Roy Moore was a tragically flawed candidate. Of course that means a non-tragically-flawed, garden-variety Republican would have mopped the floor with Jones. But a garden-variety Republican wasn’t running against Jones. Moore was.

Likewise, Sanders wouldn’t have been running against a garden-variety Republican, either. He would have been running against deeply flawed, faux populist Trump. Sanders’ genuine (or at least more genuine by far than Trump’s) populism would have enabled him to mop the floor with Trump in the debates.

Yes, Trump would have played dirty and tried to paint Sanders as an unrequited Stalinist. It probably wouldn’t have worked. Vermont is far less thoroughly liberal than most give that state credit for (it currently has a Republican governor, and for a long time its other, non-Sanders senator was a Republican).

Yet Sanders’ rhetoric has managed to successfully sell himself to many who don’t generally identify as leftists. Plus Sanders’ own experience selling himself to such voters would have led him to campaign seriously in swing states and normally Republican-leaning areas that Hillary Clinton decided weren’t worth wasting her time on. That in turn would have stopped certain key states from swinging to Trump.

One of the biggest errors politically moderate pundits make is assuming that because they, personally, happen to be highly ideological people, everyone else is, too. (Adhering to political moderation is as ideological a behavior as is adhering to any other political ideology.)

I do not believe the describes most swing voters, who are what I call “non-ideological pragmatists.” They’re not tightly committed to the left, right, or the center; they’re more focused on individual candidates and their messages than they are on any ideology. If a candidate does a good, convincing job of explaining him or herself, these pragmatists tend to be seriously willing to give him or her a try. It’s a huge part of the reason Ronald Reagan (who wasn’t labeled “The Great Communicator” for nothing) was so successful.

Bernie Sanders is another of those great communicators and as a such would have had a real chance, particularly when you figure in the high negatives of his opponent.

An Election with Real Consequences

I think Jones’ victory in Alabama will prove to be as described in the subject in this post. Presidents are term-limited, so even if he weren’t historically unpopular, Trump’s days would be numbered compared to Representatives and Senators (who can serve for decades).

The Jones victory shows that Trumpism is having increasing difficulty attracting popular support. Republicans who want to serve the long careers in Congress they envisioned are now on notice that their own self-interest may well be better served by taking a political stance that’s independent of the White House.

At the very least, the influence of fascists like Steve Bannon over the the Republicans just suffered a big setback tonight.

World Pixels: The Best Map Tiles Technique

If you go to the Open Street Map Wiki, you can find pages like this one giving helpful information about how map tiles work, and how tiles map to latitude and longitude.

But you don’t see any mention of a technique I call world pixels, an idea that woke me from a dream last night and which implementing put an end to countless headaches in getting map bounds just right.

Consider the following facts:

  • Zoom levels run from 0 through 18.
  • Each zoom level, Z, has 2Z tiles in each direction.
  • Each tile has 256 (28) pixels in each direction.
  • 18 + 8 = 26.
  • 26 ≤ 32.

Therefore, at all zoom levels, it is possible to code the (x, y) coordinates of all pixels in all tiles with two globally unique 32-bit integers. Put the tile pixel dimensions in the 8 least significant bits and the tile numbers in the next 18 most significant bits. Translate your lat/long coordinates to world pixels as early as possible in the process, and all your math then becomes integer math, which runs faster and is free from rounding errors.

Better yet, it makes zooming a breeze. Want to zoom in? Shift left; the most significant bit of the tile pixel number will become the least significant bit of the tile number. Likewise, want to zoom out? Shift right.

Simplicity itself; both easier to understand and it offers faster execution times and it produces more accurate results.

A New Appreciation for How Much Javascript Sucks

Developing a web site to report information in graphical, map form has given me a new appreciation for how much client-side Javascript (a technology I have never much liked to start with) sucks.

In fact, Javascript was never really the first choice for this site. If there was a simpler, purely declarative way to draw a map that used tool tips to display the details of each observation, I’d have used it in a heartbeat. But there doesn’t seem to be, and moreover, the best package I could find for presenting maps used Javascript. So Javascript it was.

The problem is the execution environment for mobile devices. It simply varies too much. For desktop browsers it was fairly easy to come up with a page that worked well with every browser I thought to try. Mobile sites have so far frustrated that desire. What I have works on my iPad, but no friend’s smart phone has made it work likewise. Some don’t let one zoom in at all. Some zoom in but always draw the dots ridiculously small (despite their being specified as 4 pixels in diameter). Some don’t register touches that call the touch callback. And so on.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise, really. It’s not as if most web developers are totally incompetent, yet attempting to use Javascript-heavy web sites on a mobile device is always asking for trouble. Those developers weren’t lazy or incompetent, they were just fighting against a platform that does its best to frustrate portable coding.

The rub is, tool tips are really needed to present as much information as I want to in a single graphic. As such, it’s probably time to realibrate my wants and make Javascript avoidance first and paramount. If presenting that much information requires Javascript, then presenting that much information in one graphic is the wrong goal. Time to come up with a version of the site that is basic, static HTML and point mobile users there.

Back to Safari… for Now

Circa 2011 I dumped Safari for Firefox. Safari had come out with what I term a “turkey upgrade” that made it painfully slow. Plus, Safari’s Javascript engine has always tended to suck. Add to that the recent slowness factor and it was worth putting up with how Firefox’s UI sometimes annoying departs from normal Macintosh standards.

Now Firefox has come out with a turkey upgrade of its own: Firefox Quantum. It’s almost hideously ugly and un-Mac-like. There’s so much clutter up top that the box that you enter the URL to browse to in can almost never display the whole URL at once any more.

Worse, the designers made the atrocious decision to devote the entire top part of the window to the browser tabs; there’s not much place to click on if you just want to move the browser window. You must fight your way to one of the far top corners in order to do that (and “fight” is the correct word, given that it makes it needlessly difficult to move the browser window).

What happens, of course, is that I’m used to Firefox acting how it used to (and, for that matter, how every other Mac program works), where the entire top most part of the window can be used to grab and move it. So I end up grabbing a tab and moving it. Which of course causes the tab to become a window of its own. This is something I almost never want to do. Congratulations, Firefox, you’ve made it easy for me to do something I almost never want and needlessly difficult to do something I often want.

Back to Safari for now.

New Cell Phone

No, it’s not a smartphone. To that, I strongly suspect the answer is “only when there’s no alternative”, as I have written many times before.

It’s a Nokia 3310 3G. I’ve been hoping HMD (the firm Nokia sold their cell phone business, together with branding rights, to) would come out with a version of the same that works with US cellular networks ever since reading that they were attempting a reboot of a classic dumb phone.

We shall see how well it works. One annoyance is that it is incompatible with the Apple headset I use (although I say “phooey” to their smart phones, Apple’s headset is very well-designed, and I strongly prefer to use a headset so as to distance my cranium from the radio transmitter in the phone). That is mostly counteracted by Nokia’s headset having a design that is distinctly better-than-average, and being included with the phone.

One plus is that it has an FM broadcast band receiver in it. That’s something I know I will be using from time to time. The ability to listen to news and music programming without encountering network congestion issues or paying any data charges: what’s not to like about that?

Actually, most cell phones have FM receivers in them; the makers of the chips for such things put them in because a) it doesn’t cost that much, overall; and b) the broadcast radio industry pressured them to do it. It’s just that the broadcast radio industry hasn’t been quite so successful at pressuring the phone manufacturers in enabling these receivers.

Apple is a particularly egregious example; in their iPhones, they deliberately omit making any connection between the lead going to the headset jack and the antenna on the chip, thus permanently crippling their phones by design. Even if you jailbreak your iPhone and install your own software to enable the FM receiver, you’ll still get a whole lot of nothing to show for your efforts.

Chalk it up to pure greed: most phone makers are in cahoots with cell providers, most phones being sold by the providers themselves and being locked to that provider’s network. They want their customers to stream audio and rack up network charges; it means more money for them.

The broadcast industry is naturally upset about that. Greed is in play there, too, of course. They want to have cell phone users deciding to listen to their stations and the commercials they broadcast. More listeners means higher ad rates and more money for them.

I end up squarely on the side of enabling the receivers. First, it’s a matter of choice. Nobody can force anyone to put their phone into radio mode. If one thinks broadcast radio is a vast wasteland*, one is free to not listen to it and to instead choose to stream audio. Second, is a matter of efficiency: broadcast radio has no problems scaling; it’s intrinsically one-to-many. Using it eliminates the problem of servers going down on big news days.

But the biggest argument is emergency preparedness. Broadcast radio is an older, low-tech technology. As such, it tends to be more robust than cell service. At least some stations stay on the air after a disaster takes the cell network down due to a combination of damage and subsequent overuse. Cell phones are battery-powered devices, enabling radio receivers in them to be operated without commercial power. It’s simply in the interest of public safety to have as many cell phones as possible be able to act like broadcast radio receivers.

* When one is talking about commercial radio, I tend to agree. But that’s not the only option; virtually everywhere I’ve visited there’s been non-commercial stations on FM. In my own area, there’s three very good ones.

Whistling Past the Korean Graveyard

What astounds me is how much the Establishment media are downplaying the grave and imminent danger of war between two nuclear-armed states both led by irresponsible madmen.

I was going to post something on this, then decided to shelve such plans when the news that Tillerson was secretly talking with the North Koreans came out. Which brings me to these points that Jennifer Rubin recently raised.

What’s wrong, I think, is that Tillerson is cracking under the stress of his job. That also explains why he’s trying to stay on: he has first-hand experience that the US president is in fact a madman, and fears what will happen if his influence attempting to moderate same is gone.

Of course, Rubin’s points are still valid, which means that Tillerson is probably on his way out. But keep in mind that Tillerson’s apparent worries are also valid.

What it all means is that Trump’s handlers are not able to rein in his worst attributes.

Make no mistake, the danger we are facing is now extreme.