Friday, November 30, 2012

We're Too Stupid For That

I can go back 25 to 30 years to my time in Europe when various countries still had their own currency, pre--euro. The Swiss had a one, two, and five franc coin. At the five franc level it was worth about three dollars. The Britts had £.50 and a 1 pound coin. The French had a five franc coin. And you could find examples of coins worth more than a US dollar in virtually all of the European nations.

I remember back in the early 1960s going to Las Vegas and seeing one dollar silver coins used rather than gambling chips. Then suddenly they all disappeared. They were taken out of circulation.

People didn't really like walking around with a pocket full of five or six big silver dollars. Nobody complained about the removal. Then of course we had the Susan B Anthony dollar. People said it looked too much like a quarter. Sure, it had octagon corners and was gold colored and slightly larger than a quarter but they just couldn't tell the difference. So, nobody wanted the Susan B Anthony dollar even if given as change. You can't find one anymore.

But that doesn't stop Americans. We have been minting presidential commemorative dollar coins for two decades. We stamp them out, box them up and put them in a warehouse. Meanwhile we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars printing and processing consumable paper one dollar bills.

Can I be excused for a feeling of déjà vu when I see this:

Congress Considers New Dollar Coin

We will probably have to make it out of plastic with little spikes on the edges so that the average American can determine what it is. Meanwhile look for the fool standing in front of a vending machine stuffing a limp piece of paper into a slot as it repeatedly spits it back out into his hand.

He has to do that of course because his credit card is maxed out and the machine won't take it.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Measuring Performance

One of the exercises I do in class involves the relevance of statistics. In state and local government classes we often discuss the fact that Texas ranks in the bottom five of student per capita spending for public education. The question to be asked is; do the dollars spent indicate the quality of education received. In other words if Texas spent as much as California per student would we improve our education. Do dollars equate with performance?

The obvious answer should be that it is practically impossible to compare a dollar spent in California to a dollar spent in Texas for any purpose. If we were talking about road repairs we could see that the cost of labor and materials and contractors in Texas would be much lower than the cost in California. When the discussion relates to education then we not only go between costs of living in the two states but we also deal with the very basic question of whether spending more gets better classrooms.

While Texas is among the lowest per capita for public education the District of Columbia is among the highest. How is that working out for you, Mr. Duncan?

DC Wins Worst

It appears you can wallpaper the school room with $20 bills and if the teachers aren't qualified, the parents aren't involved, the students don't participate, and the standards aren't realistic you won't get results. But let's keep trying anyway

The 2010-11 graduation rates are preliminary, state-reported data, according to the federal government and the Education Department says it will release final rates in the coming months. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said this is the first year for which all states used a common measure.

I'm not sure exactly what this means. Are there other ways of measuring whether a student that starts a high school program graduates at the end of four years than simply looking at the performance? I suppose Sec. Duncan will show us shortly when we see the final figures and the District of Columbia performance improves drastically.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dragons Be Here

One side effect of chemo that many people aren't aware of is peripheral neuropathy. That $.50 pair of words describes the phenomena of reduced sensation to the extremities. Your feet begin to lose their sensitivity and ability to provide feedback from contact with the ground. Your toes may curl slightly, feedback from contact with the floor as you walk is reduced and you may even find that the sensation resembles wearing little Dutch boy wooden shoes.

In the case of your hands it may not be as pronounced as your feet, at least it isn't for me. The significant impact of the neuropathy on my hands is that it makes typing really clumsy. I find I spend more time backspacing and correcting than actually entering text.

Then last week I saw an ad for some software. 10 or 12 years ago when I did software reviews for Ziff Davis publishing I encountered a speech to text software called Dragon Naturally Speaking. In those days of version 1.0 and 2.0 the software bragged of a 96% accuracy rate. That sounds good until you realize that if four letters out of every hundred are wrong you've got a real mess of an editable text. It didn't seem like a practical solution to entering text into a computer.

Now we are up to version 12.0 for Dragon. The quality has gone up and the prices gone down. The home edition which really includes all of the features except for some office collaboration and networking aspects is only 50 bucks at Amazon. I decided to give it a try.

The box arrived yesterday, I installed it on my computer, and spent about an hour going through the tutorials and training of the software to recognize my voice and my vocabulary. It takes about five minutes for the voice recognition training and then the software does a survey of your hard drive to read emails and Word documents to get a feel for your typical vocabulary. Along the way it will notice your correspondence and be able to enter proper names for people that you are familiar with. I did have to go in and coach it on how to spell ThunderTales.I noticed that it is reluctant to allow me to use street language and when I tried to use common defecation as an expletive it prefers to give me ship or shift. I guess I'll just have to clean up my language.

Beside the basic speech to text which goes into a Word document or an email or even into blogger I can also command my computer with voice. I can open programs, I can search files, I can format text, and pretty much do anything I can do with keyboard and mouse strictly by speaking the commands.

I would be lying to you if I said I was fully in control at this point but after only one day I am able to dictate a ThunderTales blog post like this one. That's right this has been all speech to text. I have had to enter with my mouse and keyboard about three times or to correct a fumble mouth. The software takes a little time to follow your speech but in that time it is putting your words into a context. With that time it will learn whether when you say to you mean the number, an excess, or preposition.

So far I've got to say it was 50 bucks well spent. I'm having fun with this.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Fool or a Tool?

When you set up a schedule on a Sunday morning for five major network news talk shows and you mouth the same words over and over, then you are very sure of yourself...

Or maybe you aren't sure at all.

You are a high level member of the administration. You are the voice of America in the United Nations. I hope you have some intellectual chops.

The alternatives which are obvious when you emphatically report that a demonstration of outraged muslims caused by a YouTube video got out of hand and our ambassador got caught in the result and killed can be either that you know what you are talking about or you are simply a mouthpiece of fiction for a politically driven President in the run-up to election.

If you are an intelligent and qualified high level diplomat you have to question the basic assertion. Who takes an RPG to a video protest? Why does it result in murder and consulate destruction? You've got to question what is put before you...unless you are incompetent.

Alternately, you could be simply a two-fer political appointment, a black woman, who is loyal and will without question do the bidding of the boss even when the Orwellian New-Speak is absurdly wrong.

After Testimony She Leaves More Questions

I don't think Ms Rice is stupid.  I continue to come to the conclusion that she is venal and amoral. She will tell whatever lie is necessary to further the agenda.

Whether I am right or wrong, I'm left with the inescapable conclusion that she would not serve us well in a higher office.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Compulsory Attendance?

The election outcome has triggered a rash of petitions to the federal government for approval to secede from the union. Texas got the most signatures the fastest but there were a couple of dozen other states which had similar petitions.

That of course has gotten the mouth-breathing political class, unencumbered by logic or information, to broadly brush the entire activity as "sour grapes" and failure to deal with the outcome of the election. No debate on the merits of the question are necessary. You are simply a foolish non-progressive with a warped sense of history if you ask to debate the question of secession.

This is the movement taken to the extreme, but it forces a consideration of a simple question:

Bumper Stickers

Please no citations of 1869 Supreme Court cases which were dealing with the aftermath of the civil war. This simple question is whether compulsory membership of a union against your will is a good thing. Does the union gain a benefit if members no longer want to be a part of it?

For a twentieth century example of a union which had members seeking secession and in which they were compelled to remain captive politically, let us look here:

Or maybe this example:

Velvet Revolution 1968

Or maybe the collapse of a confederation here:

East Germany 1989

Hopefully you can see the examples offering a parallel. No, I'm not saying we are YET similar to a Warsaw Pact or Soviet Union. But what I am pointing out is that when the members no longer want to attend the party, then you had better pay attention and not simply dismiss the concept. A club in which members don't want to be there is more than a Groucho Marx punch line.

Phil Phillips

Let this run in the background for a while:

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Bit of Python

Ask a Neighbor

Try it. Seriously. Ask a neighbor to explain middle-class versus wealthy federal income taxes. Ask him to help you understand "progressiveness" in rates. Request a bit of help understanding Mitt Romney's taxes being a lower rate than his secretary--stress the question of wage income versus dividends or capital gains. Isn't investment income from money that has already been taxed? Is that fair? Taxing taxed money seems excessive, doesn't it?

Does your neighbor have a clue?

What is a "fair share"? How about four times the rate of a middle-class wage-earner? If four times isn't yet fair, what would be?

Four Times Not Quite Good Enough

Few people would make the argument against progressiveness in a modern nation. Those who have been successful generally acknowledge the obligation to "pay it forward" and contribute a larger share than those still struggling. The question is regarding what is reasonable. Essential to the arrangement is acceptability of the higher rate.

The successful must see the higher rate as appropriate and not confiscatory. It if becomes a blatant redistribution program and can be viewed as unjust seizure of earned assets you are on the threshold of revolution.

The starting point for such a system is a population which is ignorant of how the progressive tax structure works. We are very firmly entrenched in such ignorance. Ask a neighbor.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Giving Thanks...

Above is the lead link list from Drudge for the holiday. Would it be less than polite to call these people Neanderthals? Might we have forgotten the concept of a holiday in which we remember what we already are fortunate enough to have?

A family, friends, your health, a home, security, a nation which defends and protects us, the comfort of a gathering of people who can appreciate what they have been given. 

Noonan on Thanks

It isn't about the latest phones, a pair of basketball shoes with sequins and a name on the side, a flat-screen made in Bangladesh, or a basket full of crap toys that won't work two hours after they are unwrapped on Christmas morning. 

What you save is hardly worth what you've lost. 

Saturday Morning Rocker

Nothing like slipping a double-entendre pun into a rock song...

Playing Triple A Ball

One could not underestimate my opinion of the Bamster's presidential credentials. I've most often commented on his abysmal understanding of market forces like supply/demand impact on pricing or stated in the simplest terms the basic truth that if you ain't buyer or seller you ain't in the game.

But the place with the potential for most serious consequences is in foreign affairs. Going around the world bowing to second echelon royalty and dictators while mispronouncing their names and committing cultural faux pas is NOT a policy. Hillary, whether in party booty-shaking mode or haggard stringy-hair crisis savior format, doesn't offer much more insight. The US is a global reactor-in-chief.

What triggers this focus? The Middle East, of course:

Morsi Grabs Strong-Man Power After Brokering Cease-Fire

Usually these operations are a bit slower and considerably more subtle. This one is not quite major league but it certainly outplays the Bamster team.

First Morsi shows his influence over Hamas and his capacity to control the more rambunctious semi-terrorist political faction. He brings Hamas to the table, elevates Fatah to again show their face in Gaza, and demonstrates that Israel has sufficient confidence to give him a chance to follow through. He downplays Iran and Syria while anybody with two brain cells to rub together knows they are partying down in the back offices of the palace. Accolades today, resumption of hostilities in the near future.

Two days later Morsi is grabbing dictatorial powers and reaching well beyond any semblance of building a constitutional democracy in Egypt. His seizure is so blatant that even the Egyptians are astonished.

Which takes us to the White House. It is probably too soon to get a statement on where the US position is on all of this. Maybe they've ironed out what they were doing on September 11, 2012 when Benghazi was burning. Was it a terrorist act or a rowdy party that got out of hand after watching some YouTube viddies?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Changing Opinion

Remember Word Perfect? How about Lotus 1-2-3 or dBase? Did you meet the Internet on Netscape? Where did they go? They got co-opted, improved and integrated into the industry standards by Microsoft.

You can claim that MS didn't have a right to the concepts or that the software megamonster stole the ideas or even that something or other is unfair about the practice. The fact is that the marketplace chose the MS products and the others withered away.

Now MS is a dozen days late to the tablet party. They are scrambling and it is obvious that they haven't brought much new to the battle against Apple. Windows 8 is a lash-up of desktop OS (Mac-ware) and touchscreen mobile system (iOS). The question is whether Apple is smarter by keeping the media delivery device isolated from the productivity workplace tool. Can the inherently dissimilar environments co-exist?

To really illustrate the scramble, MS goes into hardware with Surface. They've got a TV commercial that looks like they were really innovative with a magnetic cover screen that folds up to be an easel! OK, it's a semi-virtual keyboard as well, but if you really want a hardware keyboard, you can buy one just like with an iPad. Duh!!!

I looked at reviews of Win 8 and couldn't find one with enthusiasm. Paid reviewers don't stick around if they trash the products so that told me to stay away. Well, you can tell a fighter pilot but you can't tell him much.

I decided to play with Win 8 on a laptop I had that was not doing very much these days. My first impression confirmed the negativity. Surprisingly there was no "introduction" or "welcome" to Win 8 after installation to help the new user. I couldn't even find the shut down or restart control. Stuff is hidden everywhere and things that were promised to be retained can't be found.

Then I went online and found some Windows 8 guides. Read them--they don't take long. Here is a great one and I don't think you have to wade through the first several pages:

Windows 8 For Fools and Fighter Pilots

Suddenly  I found myself understanding the relationship between the new Start page interface and the legacy desktop. I knew how to get back and forth. I could arrange my working apps and in about half an hour didn't really go back to the desktop. I went to the Apps Store and although it is a boutique compared to the big box of Apple's App Store, I found some handy apps for my Start page. Netflix and Kindle are there and I hope Pandora and USAA show up in a week or two.

I've got my Office apps organized and my Chrome browser where I want it as well. Many functions are much better integrated such as One Note notebooks synched through SkyDrive. It is coming together very rapidly.

Long story short, I like Win 8. Do your part and look at a guide while exploring the new OS and you may find yourself with a system that improves your desktop while possible weaning you of your tablet for a lot of the day.

It looks pretty good.