not real thrilled about Oprah 2020

I think this sums it up best:

Look, Oprah seems great. (and to be clear, she’s not officially running for President as of right now) But if we’re going to turn elections into popularity contests we’re halfway to Idiocracy.

Yeah, one of the President’s many jobs is to drive issues and to communicate with the American people, and Oprah would be great at that! But there are so many other parts to it. One argument is “well, she could just pick good, qualified Cabinet secretaries and let them do their thing”, but that’s ceding a lot of power to people who aren’t elected.

My 2017 in review

2017 was pretty similar to 2016 – not great for the world but pretty good for David and me.

– Vanessa is, as expected, older now! Hard to believe she’s 16 months already. She has developed a personality, is walking all over the place, and is working on learning more words.
– With Vanessa we went on a vacation to Virginia Beach and a vacation to Disney World!
– We are building a house in Pflugerville! (that’s almost done!)
– I got more involved in politics: tried to explain why essential health benefits are important for health insurance, celebrated Obamacare’s survival, and asked y’all to call your senators about healthcare (yay!) and the Republican tax plan. (boo!)
– I also wrote a little about why the whole crowd size at the inauguration was a big deal (man that feels like a long time ago, right?) and why the “women in tech” screed was bad.
– I did have some time to work on some projects and added expected runs per inning to my baseball win expectancy finder and rewrote ThumbnailCopy for the new and improved Firefox.
– I bit the bullet and switched from Windows Phone to Android.

2018 promises to be a busy year between moving, Vanessa, and a work reorg!

Happy 2018! linked list: Meltdown/Spectre, age discrimination, Swedish robots

– Another widespread security issue, but this one’s in hardware! (as always, make sure you’re automatically installing updates for your OS and web browser) For more information about Meltdown/Spectre, you can start at the top of the list and stop when things get too technical for you:
  – xkcd
  – Ars Technica summary
  – Meltdown and Spectre – the “official homepage” of the vulnerabilities, because that is a thing now
  – Detailed Google Project Zero report – I got about a third of the way through, got the gist of it, and stopped reading…

A few comments:
  – The list of companies that have released security advisories is truly a thing to behold.
  – Is this worse than Heartbleed, my previous candidate for worst security problem ever? Meltdown/Spectre don’t allow for attacks from remote systems, but given that the problem is in the processor itself and that people have been working on patches for this for months now, I would say yes.
  – Many kudos to Google for funding Project Zero, whose researchers found these vulnerabilities! (although some academic researchers also discovered them around the same time)
  – These sorts of vulnerabilities are kinda weird. It seems pretty unlikely that anyone would have discovered this before the “good guys” did (although it’s been around for like ten years in one form or another), and since working around the issue was tricky enough it took months for people to do, in one sense the world was safer because the researchers discovered it. But of course, someone would have discovered it eventually…

T-Mobile, Amazon, and other companies are accused of using Facebook ads to exclude older Americans from jobs – discriminating based on age is illegal, but targeting job ads to (say) younger people by buying ads in magazines that young people tend to read is OK. This seems on the illegal side since older people will never see the ad on Facebook. (thanks David!)

Christians Need a New Right-to-Life Movement – amen!

The Robots Are Coming, and Sweden Is Fine – a good safety net and strong unions sounds pretty amazing!

The Man Who Tried to Kill Math in America – interesting! He meant well but really discouraged teaching kids any sort of advanced math. From the article:

When the United States entered WWII, the military reportedly had to offer enlisted men and officers in all military branches remedial math classes so they could fulfill their duties; many were struggling with tasks as basic as bookkeeping.


How Drug-Free School Zones Backfired – a policy that sounds good (and is good if used in moderation!), but…yeah.

Trump puts the world’s worst crooks and killers on notice – somewhat surprisingly, the Trump administration is enforcing the Global Magnitsky Act effectively. Hooray!

Why the debate over the budget deficit is so confusing and frustrating – economics is complicated, and countries aren’t households.

It’s been one year since N.J. ditched cash bail. Here’s how it’s going – it’s going pretty well! Bail is a weird idea that really boils down to your ability to pay.

Porgs given reason to exist, besides the fact that they are cool and good – Porgs are actual puffins altered with CGI! This is amazing!

The Navy’s Tradition of the New Year’s Day Deck Log – neat little tidbit 🙂 (thanks Emily!)

Chess’s New Best Player Is A Fearless, Swashbuckling Algorithm – another look at AlphaZero.

Social Security Will Be Solvent for the Rest of the Century – yay, probably!

Chrome is turning into the new Internet Explorer 6 – support browser diversity; use Firefox!

This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class review

This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America's Middle ClassThis Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class by Elizabeth Warren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a good book, although it’s a bit hard to read in places because it’s depressing. (reading it right after the Trump giant tax cut for businesses and the rich did not help!) But Senator Warren does offer up some hope for the future as well as some concrete steps that would help the middle class, like strengthening unions, more aggressive anti-monopoly actions, etc. Recommended!

View all my reviews

linked list wednesday: Pence’s “never dine alone with a woman” rule, don’t buy an Amazon Echo!

Vice President Pence’s “never dine alone with a woman” rule isn’t honorable. It’s probably illegal. – legality aside, the rule is clearly discriminatory unless you do the same for men. (also that Iowa dentist case from the article is bonkers! What the heck, Iowa?)

Don’t Buy Anyone an Echo – this was written as a part of Grinch week, so take it with a grain of salt, but I’m pretty surprised how popular the Echo (and Google Home, I guess) have become. Are people really not bothered by a listening device in their home? And you can trust big tech companies if you want, but they’re going to get hacked or be buggy. (like at least one Google Home unit was)

Yeah, it’s cool to be able to talk to a computer like on Star Trek. But at what cost?

What makes people nostalgic for a past worse than the present? – interesting survey results! (thanks David!)

My $200,000 bitcoin odyssey – for some reason I really enjoy reading these “aaaa I might lose thousands of dollars in bitcoins” stories. Just a reminder that while cryptocurrency solves some problems, it creates a bunch of new ones too. Also, I wonder how many bitcoins are lost forever because of mishaps like this? Since there’s a fixed supply of bitcoins, seems like this could be a problem at some point?

Cards Against Humanity Redistributes Your Wealth – this is very cool! (see the whole series at Cards Against Humanity Saves America)

Google’s AlphaZero Destroys Stockfish In 100-Game Match – so AlphaZero just used reinforcement learning for four hours and beat the highest-rated chess engine in the world? This seems like a huge deal.

Why Trying New Things Is So Hard to Do – it is!

Millions Are Hounded for Debt They Don’t Owe. One Victim Fought Back, With a Vengeance – man, the debt collection “business” is really really shady.

“An orgy of serious policy discussion” with Paul Krugman – wonky but very readable and interesting!

In Raising the World’s I.Q., the Secret’s in the Salt – neat look at Kazakhstan’s efforts to iodize salt! (although the article is ten years old, FYI)

The Story Behind the Music of The Muppet Christmas Carol – Merry Christmas everyone! (thanks Jessica!)