Saturday, March 31, 2018

That's a good question

Seen on Gab, in reference to the DREAM Act debate:

That's a pretty good question, if you ask me!  What about it, Mr. Iger?


What the actual expletive deleted???

Courtesy of Vox Day, we learn of this message:

Click the image for a larger view.  Here's the critical sentence:

MPD received a permit application several months prior to the actual event, and there was several months of planning for this large event.

WTF????  Permits for the March For Our Lives demonstration were applied for several months before the Parkland shooting - which was allegedly the event giving rise to the march - had even happened?

Two possibilities come to mind:
  1. The permit application was for use with a different demonstration, but was rapidly "repurposed" after the Parkland school shooting, to apply to the March For Our Lives event.
  2. Progressive, liberal, far-left causes are prepared to exploit any tragedy or newsworthy event that occurs to promote their issues, and they are therefore routinely applying for permits for demonstrations several months in advance, probably on a regular basis.  Those they need to use are exercised.  Those they do not need to use are allowed to lapse.

I think both of those possibilities would be worth researching in greater depth.  However, I simply can't credit a third possibility - that the Parkland massacre was planned well in advance, and "supporting actors", permits, etc. recruited and put in place well ahead of time, in order to exploit it for maximum propaganda value.  Nevertheless, you can bet your boots that some conspiracy theorists and crackpots will believe that.  I certainly can't argue that progressive, far-left individuals and groups aren't capable of such evil - the historical record speaks for itself - but I don't think things have sunk that low yet, in these United States.  If they have . . . God help us all.

I look forward to further investigations of the March For Our Lives event, and who was behind it, and where this particular cause du jour is going.  Note that, just as we've seen in the past, almost every other left-wing shibboleth has gone very quiet while the principal actors exploit the hell out of Parkland.  I'm willing to bet that many of the same activists and behind-the-scenes organizers that were involved in earlier protest activities have been "re-purposed" by their handlers to work on March For Our Lives.  As soon as something else worth exploiting pops up on the radar, March For Our Lives will also go silent, and be replaced by a more news- and publicity-worthy activity, while those organizing and funding it will take up the new challenge instead.

I'm sure readers have already noted that 90% of the demonstrators at March For Our Lives were not teens or schoolchildren.  They were adults.

Contrary to what’s been reported in many media accounts, the D.C. March for Our Lives crowd was not primarily made up of teenagers. Only about 10 percent of the participants were under 18. The average age of the adults in the crowd was just under 49 years old...

That's from a left-leaning source, too - no bias there.  The kids were being used as cover for a much more organized, much more professional political ploy, despite loud claims by the organizers that this was a "student movement".  It joins the many other progressive pressure groups that work together to influence national debates, regardless of the facts.  Proof, yet again, that there is no truth in extreme progressives, and no honor.  (To be fair, there isn't any in extreme conservatives, either.  Extremists of any ilk are simply not to be trusted.  Period.)


Cheesed off

I'm still not sure whether this report is real, or an April Fool joke released a couple of days early by mistake.  There is one other reference that would seem to confirm it, and (as you'll see from the links I've provided), I've been able to confirm some of the details as genuine.   Nevertheless, true or false, it's funny.

Researchers at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, INRA, say they have cracked a way of massively accelerating the ripening process normally so essential to creating a cheese with the required texture and smelliness.

“What nature takes three weeks, three months or three years to do we can do in two to three days using a process that is far faster and less costly,” INRA cheese expert Romain Jeantet told the Telegraph.

. . .

The secret to the process, which researchers have coined From'Innov, is to split the production of the cheese and its aroma in the laboratory and mix them later to create the desired product “à la carte”.

“With the same material, we can thus make a cream cheese on Monday, a Camembert on Tuesday and a hard cheese on Wednesday,” said colleague Gilles Garric, who said INRA was in talks with three dairy giants over the technique.

The result was very similar to traditionally-made cheese, the researchers insisted.

. . .

But purists are appalled at what they see as the latest attempt to kill of a great French exception – smelly cheese lovingly made with raw milk and on a human scale.

“This isn’t cheese at all, it’s totally synthetic,” sniffed Véronique Richez-Lerouge, who runs the traditional cheese defence group Association Fromages de Terroirs and recently wrote a book called La Vache Qui Pleure (Crying Cow).

“Industrial dairy groups have long dreamed of making cheese with as little milk as possible in as little time as possible so it costs as little as possible, with a consensual taste to appeal to the masses. INRA has made their dream come true,” she said.  “Next they’ll be adding banana or raspberry aroma.”

. . .

The new technique was the best way to offer cheese tailor-made to “local tastes and requirements” in countries like China, where demand for dairy products is exploding.

It also travelled well, as the cheese can be sent in powder form and the aroma separately, and mixed in situ.

There's more at the link.

Ripen the aroma separately from the cheese?  Now there's a thought.  I wonder if you could leave the aroma out of the final product?  Imagine Limburger with the taste, but not the stink.  Wouldn't that be nice?

(Of course, there's also the problem of mixing up the shipping containers, so that the cheese is paired with the wrong aroma.  Imagine a Cheddar that smelled like Stinking Bishop.  Oops!)


Walking the medieval way

YouTube user Roland Warzecha has produced an interesting video on this subject.  He's disabled embedding, but you can view it at this link.  Recommended.

He's listed the video as "outdated", saying:

I have learned a lot about this topic ever since this video was recorded, and consider the presentation incomplete now, which is why it is not listed any more.

However, his updated video is restricted to his Patreon subscribers, and isn't available for public viewing;  therefore, I've chosen to link the earlier version.  Even if he regards it as "incomplete", it's an interesting concept.  I agree with his comments about "ball-walking":  I've seen the same thing in some (not all) savanna tribes in Africa.

I think it'd be rather painful to re-learn to walk the medieval way, and we'd need a drastic change of shoe and boot design.  I daresay modern footwear such as the well-known Vibram Five Fingers range of fitness shoes (and their knock-offs) would work well for the purpose.  However, I'm too old and crotchety to change now!


Friday, March 30, 2018

Tractor Oops!

Received via e-mail, origin unknown:

Tie-downs are your friend.  So is rope. So are chains.  Lots of all three!  A lack of sudden stops or heavy braking helps, too . . .


Trump, the State Department, and foreign policy

A retired "Diplomad" has some interesting thoughts about the State Department and US foreign relations in the Trump administration.  Here's an excerpt.

Even with "deep cuts" the budget for State/AID remains in the $40 billion ballpark, which is a pretty big ballpark. The U.S. Foreign Service consists of over 8,000 diplomats, another over 7,500 "specialists," e.g., support personnel, plus AID officers, and a smattering of people from other agencies, such as the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce. In addition, 11-12,000 Civil Service employees work for State, most but not all in Washington, DC. So State has some 28,000 or more full-time employees, plus contractors, interns, and so on. That's a well-staffed Army division. That's a lot of people. That's too many people.

I long have held that you could cut this workforce by about one-third in a flash, and nobody would notice--well, except for those getting cut, and their landlords and real estate agents. With a little planning you could cut the whole thing in half, and have a much more nimble and productive organization. I, therefore, was not aghast, or in shock with horror, because a few positions got left vacant under the Trump Administration, or when the budget proposals were not as grand as in the past. No great foreign policy calamity will befall the Republic because a few "professionals" get their noses out of joint, or some useless programs get cut back. Cut! And cut some more!

. . .

This President, perhaps more so than any other we've had, approaches foreign affairs with the cool detachment of an experienced businessman and negotiator concerned about the end result, not just the inputs. He asks, "Why? Why are we doing that when the USA doesn't benefit?" He is the exact opposite of the State Department belief in--irritating word--"deliverables." Prior to a top-level meeting with a senior foreigner, Department staff try to find a "deliverable," some sort of goody four leadership to hand the alien potentate as a sign of our willingness to give more in the future. This President has the opposite approach: "I know what they're getting from us, what do we get from them? What's their 'deliverable' to us?" Shocking. He has no problem questioning the way things are--something not, as noted above, a strong point at State, or for that matter, of the usual international elites who get easily shocked by things such as Brexit, labelling Mad Kim as "Rocketman," threatening tariffs, backing out of the destructive Paris Climate Accord, etc.

Trump's approach, with or without the involvement of State, seems to be working. NATO is in better shape than it has been in  years. There is a glimmer of hope of meaningful progress on the Korean peninsula. The Middle East is doing much better now that ISIS has been virtually annihilated. We are moving our Embassy to Jerusalem with barely a peep out of the Arab world. The Saudis and Israelis (as predicted by this humble blog some years ago) are getting together in their opposition to Iran. Iranian boats have stopped harassing our fleet (wonder why?) The Chinese seem to be backing down from their threat of a trade war. Russian influence is on the wane. We have good relations with many African nations in the fight against the jihadis. These and others out there are good signs. A lot of this can be reversed, of course, but, for now, the Trump Caravan moves on even as the assorted prog dogs grow hoarse from barking.

Not bad.

There's more at the link.  Recommended reading.

Contrast this perspective with the stridently anti-Trump commentary that's so prevalent in the news media (for example, see here for a negative perspective on his foreign policy and his attitude towards the State Department).  I'm not a "Trump apostle", but I think "the proof of the pudding is in the eating".  Based on the actual foreign policy results achieved so far, as the Diplomad observes - "Not bad."


That sucking sound you hear . . .

. . . is all levels of US government dredging your wallet for everything they can get.  It's bad enough at the federal level.

The latest monthly Treasury report on taxes and spending shows that gross tax receipts in February were $1.4 billion higher than the year before. Weren't the Republican tax cuts supposed to explode the deficit?

According to the report, the government took in $238.2 billion in taxes in February. The year before, tax revenues were $236.8 billion.

For fiscal year 2018, which started last October, taxes are up $50.5 billion compared with the same months last year, and are at a record high level for this five-month span.

There's more at the link.

Not content with federal (i.e. national) taxes, states and local governments - counties, cities, towns, etc. - are raking in every pound of flesh they can digest, and then some.

According to the Census Bureau, last year alone state and local governments collected a record $573 billion just in property taxes. That’s about $1,759 for each one of the estimated 326 million Americans.

Add to that another record — $386.2 billion — in sales and gross receipts taxes.

And another $405 billion in income taxes.

That’s almost $1.4 TRILLION. Quite a haul for governments. And yet, as the Wall Street Journal reports (subscription), state and local governments are hiking taxes and fees even more, claiming budget crunches.

. . .

Those sales tax takings do NOT include taxes on booze, entertainment, gasoline, race track bets, public utilities and tobacco.

The property tax total is up almost $22 billion over the previous record in the previous year. The income tax haul is up almost $5 billion over the previous record in 2015. While the gross and sales tax receipts are up “only” a quarter-billion from 2015.

Aren’t we lucky?

Again, more at the link.

Joseph de Maistre famously said that "All nations get the government they deserve".  I'm glad he didn't say "the government they can afford" - because we sure can't afford what we've got now!

Keep those numbers in mind when you read about illegal aliens being given benefits - at taxpayer expense - that many taxpayers themselves do not receive, and are not entitled to receive.  Keep them in mind when you try to pay your mortgage, or put fuel in your vehicle's tank, or buy food for your family, and come up short.  Most government bureaucrats - for whom you're paying through your federal, state and local taxes - don't seem to have that problem, do they?

You want real change, real reform, in this country?  Don't cap the amount of taxes - cap the amount the government is allowed to spend, as a percentage of GDP, and make that a relatively low percentage (certainly no more than 20% overall, for all levels of government put together).  If they try to spend more than that, all lawmakers who vote for it should automatically become ineligible to ever draw a state salary or benefit of any description, ever again.  I reckon that'd cut back spending, and the size and scope of government, overnight!


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Ambitious dog chases fighter jet

But what will he do with it if he catches it?


Can anyone help identify this song?

A friend who's looking for movie theme music asked me whether I could identify a song both of us remember from way back when.  Unfortunately, neither of us know its title or the singer.  Some of the lyrics go something like this:

Will I be yours?
Will I be the one that you love?

The second line alternated between "Will you be mine?" and "Will I be yours?", and perhaps something else too.  The chorus went something like "It will be a strange world without you, love", repeated several times.

I think it was a hit in South Africa in the 1970's or early 1980's, but I can't be sure whether it was popular anywhere else.  It had a fairly hard-driving rock rhythm, electric guitars and drums, with a relatively slow beat.

Do you remember that song?  Can you identify it?  If so, please let us know in Comments.



Collective noun of the day

From The Gunslinger, who provides attribution:

A group of three or more Prius vehicles is a "Smug" of Prii.  "I'm betting they show up in a Smug of Prii."


(For the benefit of overseas readers who may not understand: to drive the electric-hybrid Prius is renowned notorious as an ostentatious nose-in-air "statement" by eco-Nazis that they're doing their best to protect the environment, while the rest of us plebs in our gas-guzzlers are not.)


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Quote of the day - aviation edition

From fellow blogger and recently qualified pilot Aaron:

The below picture is what happens when a Daddy Cirrus SR22 loves a Mommy Cirrus SR20 very much:

Fortunately, according to this report, nobody aboard either plane was injured. How lucky can you get?


"Facebook goes out and finds the morons for me"

Bloomberg reports on how Facebook actively helps scammers and shady sales operations target their customers.

Officially, the Berlin conference was for aboveboard marketing, but the attendees I spoke to ... told me that Facebook had revolutionized scamming. The company built tools with its trove of user data that made it the go-to platform for big brands. Affiliates hijacked them. Facebook’s targeting algorithm is so powerful, they said, they don’t need to identify suckers themselves—Facebook does it automatically. And they boasted that Russia’s dezinformatsiya agents were using tactics their community had pioneered.

. . .

Gryn estimated that users of his tracking software place $400 million worth of ads a year on Facebook and an additional $1.3 billion elsewhere. (He later showed me reports that roughly support those figures.) It’s not just affiliates who think Gryn is at the pinnacle of the industry. In June, just before the conference, Facebook’s newly installed executive in charge of fighting shady ads, Rob Leathern, had invited him to the company’s London office to explain the latest affiliate tricks.

The basic process isn’t complicated. For example: A maker of bogus diet pills wants to sell them for $100 a month and doesn’t care how it’s done. The pill vendor approaches a broker, called an affiliate network, and offers to pay a $60 commission per sign-up. The network spreads the word to affiliates, who design ads and pay to place them on Facebook and other places in hopes of earning the commissions. The affiliate takes a risk, paying to run ads without knowing if they’ll work, but if even a small percentage of the people who see them become buyers, the profits can be huge.

Affiliates once had to guess what kind of person might fall for their unsophisticated cons, targeting ads by age, geography, or interests. Now Facebook does that work for them. The social network tracks who clicks on the ad and who buys the pills, then starts targeting others whom its algorithm thinks are likely to buy. Affiliates describe watching their ad campaigns lose money for a few days as Facebook gathers data through trial and error, then seeing the sales take off exponentially. “They go out and find the morons for me,” I was told by an affiliate who sells deceptively priced skin-care creams with fake endorsements from Chelsea Clinton.

. . .

Because Facebook is so effective at vacuuming up people and information about them, anyone who lacks scruples and knows how to access the system can begin to wreak havoc or earn money at astonishing scale.

There's more at the link.

Given recent revelations about just how much information Facebook, Google et. al. harvest about each of us, and how difficult it is to stop that process (and erase what they've gleaned), that makes this even worse.  Scammers can appear genuine, even interesting, if they cloak their approaches in a way that makes them seem familiar and attractive to us - approaches that we would never expect a complete stranger to be able to use.  However, since all our information is out there, and Facebook actively uses it to target us with advertisements, the work of scammers is made that much easier.

This stinks.


Doofus Of The Day #1,003

Today's award goes to the worker at Planned Parenthood in Pennsylvania who sent out this tweet in the name of that organization:

The tweet was taken down almost immediately, as soon as someone realized how utterly asinine it was . . . but the damage was done.  It had already been screenshotted and archived, and has since gone viral.

Personally, I don't think we "need" a Disney princess at all.  I'd far rather little girls were raised by responsible parents, and taught to behave like normal human beings!  There are few enough adults (of either sex) who know how to behave, let alone young children.


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

"Who is it that I am not permitted to criticize?"

There's a saying generally attributed to Voltaire, but which was apparently a much later aphorism (allegedly from Kevin Alfred Strom, a white supremacist):

To determine the true rulers of any society, all you must do is ask yourself this question: Who is it that I am not permitted to criticize?

I suppose it's ironic that it's from a white supremacist source, because the following graphic (courtesy of Wirecutter) is extraordinarily well suited to it.

That's so true it hurts.  If one even criticizes (much less condemns) any or all of the first four groups, the Social Justice Warriors, hard-left liberals and progressives will line up to condemn you.  If one doesn't condemn the last, they'll do it for you.

H. L. Mencken had it right, methinks:

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

That aphorism fits the graphic above to a T.


Talk about crime and societal breakdown . . .

What happens when respect for the law, and for property, is so degraded, and the desire to make money by any means available is so great, that lives don't matter?  This happens.

A train derailed in Cullinan on Tuesday afternoon, 30 kilometres east of Pretoria [in South Africa].

According to Alika Steyn of Friends of the Rail, the derailment around 13:30 was due to stolen train tracks.

“About 400 passengers were on board when the train derailed,” she said.

She said they were only aware of two drivers who sustained minor injuries.

No other injuries were reported.

There's more at the link.

This is a tourist train, using an historic steam engine and vintage railway cars on an old branch line (similar to tourist trains in the Colorado Rockies, for example).  Hundreds of people, many of them families with children, ride that line every day on these trips.  They're probably major contributors to the local economy, but that didn't matter to the thieves.  Neither did their lives or safety.  The passengers and crew are incredibly fortunate that no-one was killed or badly hurt.

Here's a video report about the derailment.

I know that area reasonably well, from a few years spent in Pretoria in the late 1970's and early 1980's.  I'm still shaking my head in disbelief that the social fabric could have deteriorated to such an extent that scrap metal thieves could make off with an entire stretch of railway line - or that a scrap yard would be willing to buy it from them!

It's very, very sad to see my country of origin go to the dogs like this.


Guess who was behind "March For Our Lives"?

I'm sure it'll come as no surprise to my readers to learn that the whole thing was Astroturfed.  Daniel Greenfield has more.

March for Our Lives is on every cable channel, but who runs it? The photogenic teen fronts are out front. But it’s obvious to everyone that a bunch of teens don’t have the resources and skills to coordinate a nationwide movement. Instead it’s the experienced activists who are actually running things.

The March for Our Lives Fund is incorporated as a 501(c)(4). Donations to 501(c)(4) groups are not tax-deductible. And they don’t have to disclose donors. That’s why they’re a great dark money conduit.

. . .

March for Our Lives is funded by Hollywood celebs, it’s led by a Hollywood producer and its finances are routed through an obscure tax firm in the Valley. Its treasurer and secretary are Washington D.C. pros. And a top funder of gun control agendas is also one of its directors.

None of this has much to do with Parkland. The mass shooting by a mentally ill man who should have been committed and arrested long before he carried out his massacre was a political opportunity.

Now that opportunity is being exploited to the hilt by a professional class of political activists.

. . .

That’s what an illegitimate lobby thwarting the will of the people really looks like.

Instead of March for Our Lives, maybe it’s time to March for the Truth?

There's more at the link.

The sheer speed and efficiency with which this whole organization emerged out of nowhere is telling in itself.  Aaron observes:

Interestingly enough, checking the Delaware Corporations filings, you can see that within 7 days of the Parkland shooting, on February 21 the March for Our Lives Foundation, the March For Our Lives Action Fund ... were incorporated. The March for our Lives Lodging LLC soon followed on March 2 (you have to wonder what that one is for exactly - providing hotel space for activists perhaps?), and were all setup as Delaware companies.

If you think a bunch of teenagers set these up, that quickly, there's a lovely bridge in Brooklyn up for sale woth a special deal just for you. On top of that there was a very, very quick 501(c)4 filing to allow donations without disclosing the identifies of the donors. Kids did not set these up.

Professionals setup the Delaware corps and did the IRS elections, not your average teen that just learned to stop eating Tide Pods.

Again, more at the link.

I think I know exactly what's been going on.  The anti-gun organizations and activists knew that, sooner or later, another mass shooting would occur.  They proceeded to set up their plans, make their arrangements, have draft legal documents filed on standby, and have funds ready for action the instant it did.  That's how they got all this organized so quickly - they were organized in advance.  "Spontaneous demonstrations by schoolchildren"?  My fundamental jujube they were!  That's BS from start to finish.

However, we need to learn from what's just happened.  The enemies of our human and constitutional rights are ready, eager and waiting for the next such event.  They'll seek to build on the momentum they've just established, and chip away even more of our rights.  If we sit back and wait, they'll swamp news and social media with their perspective before we can so much as say "Boo!"

We have to organize too.  We need to be as ready as the anti-gunners to get our point of view out there, to combat their falsehoods and half-truths, and make sure our voices are heard just as loudly as theirs.  That'll be difficult, with most of the news media on their side . . . but we have to make the effort, or see our rights slowly but steadily eroded into dust.  No-one else will do it if we don't.


It's great to have friends like this!

My friend, armorer, fellow author and blogger Michael Z. Williamson, known in various and sundry circles as "Mad Mike", "Crazy Einar" (see the T-shirt!) and other appellations, has written two OUTSTANDING blog posts that I think deserve the widest possible circulation.

The first is a succinct takedown of gun control dweebs.

Gun control's only philosophical argument is waving the bloody shirt. There are literally zero facts to support the claims, when any objective study is done. In fact, four of the most widely cited sources against gun control all started out in support, and changed their minds based on facts. (Wright, Rossi, Kleck, Lott)

So then the bleat is, "Who are you going to believe? Some researcher with an "Agenda"(Because obviously, there's zero agenda to taking weapons away from people), or the kids who were at the shooting?

Well, that's easy.  It doesn't matter what a Tide Pod eater thinks. Especially when the ones being genuflected before weren't even at the shooting, they were in a completely different building.  That's like saying. "I wasn't in combat, but I was on the base near where it happened and I talked to a bunch of shooters, so my opinion on what rifle to use is important!"

No, not really. Science matters.  Opinion from a glory seeker who wants CNN coverage is not.

There's more at the link.

The second, longer article is a truly magnificent rant against the hard-left, progressive liberal activists who are trying to shut down free speech and put Big Brother in power.  He compares them - instructively - with Muslim fundamentalist terrorists.  It's a very profane rant, littered with f-bombs and the like - and it's spot on.

The modern American "liberal" is nothing like the classical liberal of the 19th Century, who gave us most of modern civilization, nor even the anti-statist liberals of the 60s, who were well-intentioned if a bit naive.

The modern American "liberal" is a statist ****sucker who cannot tolerate even the existence of dissent.  They claim to be "tolerant," but a quick discussion will lead to them admitting they don't have to tolerate those hatey haters who hate, which is anyone they disagree with, even if the facts conclusively support the other party.  They are a cancer on society and, as in several past societies, at some point they will have to be exterminated.

. . .

There are a billion Muslims in the world, and it's true that the overwhelming majority are peaceful. Those poor people are stuck in the middle between the violent nutjobs and those fighting the violent nutjobs. Nor do they have an obligation to apologize for the nutjobs, anymore than gun owners should apologize for mass shooters, responsible drinkers for drunk drivers, or Canadians for Justin Bieber.

Liberals, though, do need to apologize for the acts of other liberals, because there is no such thing as an innocent liberal. They're pretty much all on board with Kim, Stalin and Hitler, and most come out and extol those behaviors.

Again, more at the link.

Go read them both.  They're highly entertaining - and despite the hyperbole, they're pretty accurate descriptions of the sort of idiots we saw in Washington last weekend.

Thanks, Mike.  You made my morning!


Monday, March 26, 2018

The joys of spring . . .

. . . unless you're the gardener, of course.


Quote of the day

From Dustbury, concerning the unhappily gargantuan omnibus spending bill signed into law last week:

Proposed fix, preferably as the 28th Amendment:  "Congress shall make no law which exceeds in length the original Constitution."  Four thousand five hundred forty-three words.

Best political idea I've heard in years!


An infamous low bridge adds to its victims

A low bridge in Durham, North Carolina, is famous for the vehicles that have run into it.

The 78-year old bridge that runs along South Gregson Street has a clearance of only 11 feet 8 inches. It has become known across the internet as “The Can-Opener Bridge” because of the astounding number of overconfident truck drivers who think they can squeeze their vehicle under it. Recently, the bridge claimed its 130th victim: an Army LMTV.

Local truck drivers know to avoid the overpass, so nearly every vehicle that gets clipped is either a rental or from out-of-state. The costs of raising the railroad tracks would be astronomical and the city’s main sewer line runs underneath, meaning lowering the road is impossible.

Thankfully, to date, there have been no fatalities and only three minor injuries. The city of Durham is content to plaster the area with a ridiculous amount of warnings to drivers, including a traffic light and gigantic, flashing sign that triggers if a height sensor is tripped. But all of these cautions don’t deter idiots drivers who aren’t willing to take a short detour.

To be completely honest, I don’t think they even want to fix it because it’s too funny.

There's more at the link.

Here's the latest casualty, an Army truck with its elevated weapon mount.

And, in case you missed it, here's a compilation of some of the earlier crashes involving the bridge.

I'm surprised insurers don't add a rider to their policies stating that, if you hit the bridge with a tall vehicle, you're on your own!


Trumpian angst versus Presidential realpolitik

Both angst and realpolitik have been much in evidence over the omnibus spending bill that President Trump signed into law late last week.  The latter has come from the President, the former from many of his erstwhile supporters.  Consider this disappointed perspective:

Trump won the election in part because of his promise to be a genuine maverick. But the Trump we saw Friday evening, Friday afternoon, last September, last May and countless other times wasn’t a maverick. He was a soft, weak-kneed, bleeding-heart chump, point blank.

Have I personally given up on him yet? Of course not. But I have definitely chosen to stop excusing his bullshit.

Look, folks, you can’t act like Trump is some unparalleled leader and then turn around and whine that he’s failing because Republicans aren’t supporting him enough. He’s the damn president and commander in chief, and if he wants to win reelection in 2020, he better man up and start acting like it!

Angst?  You bet.  Logical?  Realpolitik?  Far from it.

Let's consider facts.  Congress, not the President, controls "the power of the purse".  Spending decisions are made, considered and passed by Congress.  The President can sign or veto them, as he chooses, but he cannot dictate what they contain.  If he vetoes them, Congress can override his veto with a two-thirds majority vote.  The omnibus spending bill was passed with a 58% majority in the House of Representatives.  Over 100 Republican congressional representatives voted against it, but Democrats supported it, pushing it over the majority threshold.

I note with cynical lack of surprise that the Republicans control Congress.  They could have come together to draft and pass a bill that they could all support;  but they did not, so much so that the party fractured in its vote.  That isn't the President's problem.  That's the Republican Party's problem.  I daresay it'll only be resolved by voting many of their representatives out of office, and replacing them with those who are more committed to working together with the President, rather than for "the swamp".  That, again, is not something the President can do.  It's up to voters.

On the basis of his performance in office so far, President Trump is more interested in realpolitik than in angst.  He does what he can.  He fights the battles he can win.  If he can't fight them with a reasonable chance of success, he chooses a different battle.  He could not possibly win the "battle of the budget" if his own party could not draft, and unite behind, a more suitable spending bill.  It's no use criticizing him for signing a less-than-perfect bill.  Realistically, what alternative did he have?  Reject it, and plunge the nation into disorder while his veto was contested (and possibly overridden) in Congress?  Force the US government into shutdown because neither side was prepared to compromise?  We've tried that, repeatedlyIt doesn't work.

On the other hand, by choosing to work within the system, President Trump has opened up at least the possibility of avoiding the more onerous provisions of the omnibus spending bill, and using it to support his agenda.  Consider this:

1. Congress allocates money to be spent. The President spends the allocated money.

2. Once Congress allocates money, their job is oversight of the money being spent. They don't spend the money and have no say HOW it gets spent as long as it's spent legally. That's their job to monitor with oversight.

3. Once the President is given the money with the instructions to spend it, he has a number of choices to make in spending it. There are some rules he has to follow & some of the money is fungible and some isn't.

4. However there are some other factors that are in play here. One of them is that the President has declared a Human Rights Emergency AND has notified Congress that he's invoking the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985.

5. This opens up new options.

6. By making these two declarations President Trump has just communicated that he has the authority to NOT spend any funds he doesn't deem necessary and will return them to the US Treasury. So, funds for Planned Parenthood? He can simply not allocate the funds.

7. Also, these declarations make some funds fungible. For instance if he determines that building a Wall on the Southern Border is a defense against Human Trafficking? He can move funds from anywhere else in the Defense Dept Allocation & simply build the Wall.

8. Congress is powerless to stop cash reallocations on an omnibus bill AND cannot stop the DOD from taking measures under a declared Emergency.

9. Despite their language in the Omnibus Bill about the Border Wall, it is trumped by the State of Emergency that Trump declared.

There's more at the link.  Recommended reading.

Of course, there's no guarantee that President Trump will behave in that fashion:  but he was very prompt to invoke his powers and prerogatives (see point 4 above).  I doubt he'd have done so unless he intended to use them.  That's not his way.  Furthermore, as a commenter at Brock Townsend's place notes:

1. President Trump now has the money he wants for the military and a significant sum for ‘wall materials’.

2. President Trump is the Commander in Chief of the US Military.

3. The US Army has a 37,000 man strong unit of Army Engineers which, given the funds for manpower and equipment, could expand rapidly.

Add 1, 2 and 3 and examine possibilities.

Hmmm . . .

To reinforce the perspectives above, there's the issue of Presidential flexibility in using monies allocated by Congress.  If they are allocated in the form of "normal" appropriations bills, one for each department of the Federal government that's entitled to a budget, those funds can usually be used only as provided in the bill.  They can't be reallocated to some other purpose without Congressional approval of the change.  However, in an omnibus spending bill (i.e. not department-specific), the conditions attached to their use are more relaxed.  Provided that they're used to meet the overall needs of the department for which they're allocated, under certain conditions they can be switched from one need to another within that department - or not spent at all, at the President's discretion.  That's what I think the President's invocation of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, and his earlier declaration of a human rights emergency, are all about.

If President Trump should deem the uncontrolled influx of illegal aliens across the southern border of the USA to represent a "human rights emergency", and/or a threat to the nation's security, he could divert US defense and other funds to address it, because that could justified as a defensive expenditure to ensure US security.  Do, please, note the President's tweet yesterday (clickit to biggit):

Makes you think, doesn't it?  As for all those decrying the President for signing a manifestly imperfect omnibus spending bill . . . you might want to wait and see what happens.  This President is not noted for rolling over and playing dead.

Don't judge President Trump by what he says.  Judge him by what he does.  The two are frequently a long way apart.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sunday morning music

Last week we looked at variations on a very old English folk song, "John Barleycorn".  I thought it might be fun to continue the theme with a classical piece.

Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote "The Lark Ascending" in 1914, based on a poem by George Meredith.  He scored the original piece for piano and violin.  The outbreak of the First World War disrupted the first performance, which eventually took place in 1920.  Here it is as originally scored.

In the same year, 1920, the composer re-scored the piece for solo violin and orchestra.  It's in this form that it's become most well known (and beloved).

The piece has also been re-scored for solo flute and orchestra.  This variation might be the most "moody" of them all, with the flute being well suited to reproduce the sounds intrinsic to birdsong.

All three versions are lovely, each in their own way.


Saturday, March 24, 2018

The resemblance is striking

I'm sure many readers have already seen this image of left-wing/progressive media darling David Hogg giving a Nazi- style salute during today's anti-gun rallies.

Quite apart from the unpleasant connotations of that salute, there's also his impassioned calls for Fascistic, unilateral abrogation of people's constitutional rights.  I couldn't help but be reminded of someone else.

Ah, yes.  A definite resemblance, I'd say . . . both personal and political.


Your car as a nanny

Eric Peters points out that most modern vehicles have become nannies - and we can't switch them off.

One of the reasons for liking old cars is they don’t try to parent you. The new stuff won’t quit trying to.

The 2018 VW Golf GTI I am reviewing this week, for instance. When you put the transmission in Reverse, the radio’s volume’s is peremptorily turned down – apparently because someone decided it wasn’t saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafe to back up while listening to the radio.

. . .

Speaking of door locks . . . .

They are just as peremptory. Some can be programmed not to be – but the default is uber peremptory. As soon as you get in and close the door, it locks. All locks. Some cars are incredibly aggressive about allowing access to the car, denying the owner access to the trunk or rear cargo area unless he very deliberately unlocks the locks, which the car slammed shut without him having asked it to.

Again, for saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety.

. . .

It’s one thing – an acceptable thing – for a car company to include a feature it thinks may be helpful. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s another thing when the feature isn’t wanted – and you can’t countermand the “help.”

This is, however, the new Nudge way of doing things. The mother-in-law you can’t make shut up or kick to the curb.


. . .

Old cars – those made prior to early 2000s – are largely free of all this stuff. Those made prior to the ’90s are completely free of this stuff. Driving one of those cars is an almost startling experience, if you only have experience with newer cars. You are in charge – of everything. The car simply does as it’s told.

There's more at the link.

I can't help but agree with him.  When I started driving, way back when, many cars still had lap belts only - no shoulder seatbelts.  There were no warning gongs, bings, bangs or booms at all, unless your engine happened to blow up (which was definitely an attention-getter!)  I suppose busybody regulators and lawsuits by the "Someone's gotta pay!" crowd are to blame for the change.  Miss D.'s and my present vehicles, dating from 2006 and 2005 respectively, are annoying in their noisy insistence that we buckle up RIGHT NOW when we turn the key.  However, they're mild in comparison to some modern contraptions, which I'm informed won't let you start up at all unless you first buckle up.  I haven't come across such a vehicle myself, and I hope I never do!  You can rest assured I won't be buying one.

Perhaps it's time to consider keeping my 13-year-old truck running at almost any cost, just to be free of all the "nannyisms" inflicted on their drivers by later-generation cars . . .


"Naval Air: A Disaster Of Epic Proportions"

That's the title of an article at Strategy Page, analyzing in some depth the apparent failure of the US Navy's new aircraft carrier catapult system.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

In February 2018 the U.S. Navy confirmed that it had major problems with the design and construction of its new EMALS (Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System) catapult installed in its latest aircraft carrier; the USS Ford (CVN 78) and the three other Ford class carriers under construction.

. . .

An EMALS catapult was supposed to have a breakdown every 4,100 launches but in heavy use EMALS actually failed every 400 launches. By the end of 2017 the navy concluded that an EMALS equipped carrier had only a seven percent chance of successfully completing a typical four day “surge” (multiple catapult launches for a major combat operation) and only a 70 percent chance of completing a one day surge operation. That was because when one EMALS catapult went down all four were inoperable. In effect the Ford class carriers are much less capable of performing in combat than their predecessors.

With steam catapults when one went down the other three could continue to operate. Worse even minor repairs or maintenance on one catapult means all four had to be out of service. The navy hopes they can come up with some kind of, as yet unknown, modifications to EMALS to fix all these problems. In the meantime the new Ford carrier is much less useful than older ones that use steam catapults. In fact the Ford class carriers are basically worthless, except for training of the non-flight crew (which cannot function without reliable catapults).

There are no easy solutions. For example it would cost over half a billion dollars to remove EMALS and install the older steam catapults. This would also take up to several years and lead to many other internal changes. The navy is now considering bringing a recently retired carrier back to active service as a stopgap because whatever the fix is it will not be quick or cheap. The most worrisome part of this is the apparent inability of navy ship building and design experts to come up with a solution for the problem they created. For the navy officers and civilian officials involved there is another problem. The current Secretary of Defense is a retired Marine Corps general who has a good idea of how the navy operates without being part of the navy (the Marine Corps and Navy are two separate services in the Department of the Navy). The marines have a well-deserved reputation for being less understanding about failure and in a situation like this a former marine general as Secretary of Defense is very bad news for the navy officers responsible for creating, sustaining and being unable to fix this EMALS disaster.

. . .

Without a functional EMALS the steam and electricity generation system of the Ford class carriers, designed to supply large quantities of electric power, would not be able to provide the needed quantities of electricity to operate powerful new weapons like rail guns and high powered lasers as well as EMALS.

The EMALS disaster calls into question the ability of the navy to handle new, untried, technologies. That is not a new problem and has been around since World War II. In retrospect not enough was done to test and address what are now obvious problems. The current solution is to delay the moment of truth as long as possible and then conclude that it was unclear exactly how it happened but that measures would be taken to see that it never happen again. That approach is wearing thin because more people are well aware that is just a cover for the corruption and mismanagement that has been developing within the industries that build warships. The U.S. Navy has been having a growing number of similar problems (the design of the LCS, the DDG 1000 and a lot of smaller systems).

There's much more at the link.  It's a long, but very interesting analysis.  Recommended reading.

This is going to add fuel to the debate over whether or not large aircraft carriers are worth having at all.  There's no denying their utility in areas where land-based air facilities are poor or non-existent.  They can deploy the equivalent of a USAF group to a combat zone, provided that anti-ship defenses are not a major threat.  Such capabilities can be (and historically have proven to be) very useful indeed.  However, the threats facing carrier battle groups today are greater than in the past, and more pressing.  In particular, massed missile attacks might overwhelm them, saturating their defenses with so many targets that they don't have time (or sufficiently capable systems) to shoot them all down before some strike home.  Anti-ship missiles have become so prevalent, and so (relatively) low-cost, that even a smaller nation (e.g. Iran) can afford to site a hundred or more of them along its coastline, particularly in areas where enemy naval forces are forced by geographic constraints to sail within range of that coast (e.g. the Strait of Hormuz).  Even terrorist groups have used them successfully (Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Houthi rebels in Yemen).

I don't believe today's US Navy battle group could fight off a hundred or more anti-ship missiles arriving almost simultaneously.  I suspect at least half, probably more, would get through.  One missile wouldn't shut down a carrier, or even one of its escorts;  but hits from one or two dozen of them?  That's a whole new ball game.  New weapons such as the electromagnetic rail gun and laser "cannon" are supposed to offer a solution to this problem;  but both are still in development, and unlikely to be in widespread service for at least another decade.  No existing combat vessel has them, and those already built will require extensive modification (and probably significant electricity generating capacity upgrades) before they can operate them.  They'll add to the cost and complexity of warships, and their reliance on copious supplies of electricity may itself be a serious weakness.  If an electromagnetic pulse weapon can disable power to part of a city (as demonstrated with the CHAMP project - see the video clip below - and equivalent projects under way in other countries), it can do the same to a warship or group of warships, as can a high-altitude nuclear explosion within a radius of several hundred miles.  What price their electrically powered weapons then?

There's also the real risk posed by modern submarines, which are less easy to detect and more capable than ever before.  A Chinese diesel-electric submarine has already handed an unpleasant surprise to a US Navy carrier battle group.  What if it had fired torpedoes instead of surfacing?  Another incident in 2015 suggests that such encounters are not isolated incidents.

My personal opinion is that, if the carrier situation is as screwed up as the Strategy Page article suggests, it may be time for the USN to suspend further carrier constriction until it can guarantee that all the systems on its new Ford class ships work (including EMALS), and it's conducted shock testing on the first of the class to certify that they can stand up to combat conditions.  Otherwise, we may be throwing good taxpayer money after bad.  In time of war, that may perhaps be excusable;  but in time of peace, and in our present tight economic conditions, that's simply unacceptable.

It may also be time to re-evaluate whether large carriers are still a worthwhile investment.  As I said earlier, their tactical and even strategic value is unquestionable, provided they are able to operate in the face of modern defenses.  If they aren't . . . what then?  Would more, smaller carriers be an option, so that losing a single carrier wouldn't wipe out so much of the US Navy's air capability?  Would it be better to consider unmanned aerial attack forces that could be based further away, even on land masses a thousand miles or more away from the combat zone?  USAF UAV's over Afghanistan are already being flown by crews stationed in Nevada, USA.  Could something similar offer sufficient capability to replace aircraft carriers?

I suspect part of the problem is the mindset of senior US Navy officers.  Carrier command, or command of a carrier air wing, has been one of, if not the dominant, traditional route to admiral's stars (hence the jokes sometimes heard about the "carrier mafia").  Even if further investigation suggests it may be appropriate, will senior officers be prepared to embrace alternatives to the carrier?  One wonders.


Friday, March 23, 2018

The social media scam

Karl Denninger has two excellent articles showing how social media (Facebook in particular, but also all, repeat, ALL other "big social" sites out there - Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, old Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all) are monitoring and "monetizing" you.

In the first article, "The REAL Social Media SCAM", he states:

So let's assume you're Facesucker.  You make it "easy" for site owners to put "likes" and even use sign-on features from Facebook's authentication on your page.  Say, you're a newspaper.

Ok, so I go to www.mylocalnews.dirtbag/my-local-jackass-city-council.html.

As the page loads it requests the "like" buttons from Facebook for the articles, and in addition requests the sign-in box for comments.  Both of those generate a request to Facebook's computers and in that request is the exact URL I am reading -- that is, from where the request came.

Now here's the important part: If I have signed into Facebook at any time in the past from that device then the company has stored one or more cookies on my machine that uniquely identify me.  Since the request to Facebook's servers match the place where the cookie came from they now get the exact article I was reading and my identity even though I did not sign into Facebook to read the article.  I have given no consent to this, I cannot opt out of it and every single place on the Internet that has these buttons and/or sign-on boxes causes this to happen.

What's even worse is that I don't have to actually have signed into Facebook, ever, or even have an account in order for this to occur.  The first time that request goes to Facebook if there are no cookies sent Facebook can assign me one and check my browser's characteristics, including the IP address I'm coming from.  I now am "branded", in that the same cookie will be used to track me forever, and if I at any time in the future sign into Facebook or otherwise use any of their facilities I will then retroactively associate all of that browsing data with my person.

Now you know why Facebook allows (for "free") the user of the OAUTH sign-on facility and promotes "like" buttons all over the web.  It is not about increasing your social experience.

It is about snooping on everything you do online so they can sell and use that data without your knowledge or consent and in fact it is impossible for you to give prior consent because you have no idea the buttons are there before you visit the page!

There's more at the link.

In the second article, "The OTHER Half Of The Social Scam", he goes on:

I know what you're thinking -- I'll just turn off "third party cookies" and all will be ok (in relation to my previous article.)

. . .

But ... this doesn't work.

The reason is an HTTP field called an "Etag."

. . .

The [Etag] can be attached to any resource, although it's usually attached to images.  The server sends down an Etag: field with the image in the HTTP headers, which is an opaque identifier.  In other words, from the browser's point of view it does not care what the string is; it doesn't represent a time, date, or anything other than a promise from the server that it shall change if the content has changed and needs to be re-sent.

If this sounds like a cookie that's because it can be abused to become one, and you cannot shut it off unlike cookies!

So let's say you disable third-party cookies.  Fine, you think.  Nope.

I have a "Like" button.  Said button has an image.  That image is the finger pointing up, of course, and you must transfer it at least once.  I send an Etag with it, but instead of it being a change index it's unique to you!

Now, every single time you request the button you send the Etag for the image.  If it hasn't changed (and it basically never will, right -- it's an upturned finger!) I send back "Not modified".  Except.... I just pinned to you, personally, that access to the page and you have third-party cookies turned  off!

So I send back "Not modified" but you just told me who you are, what web page you were viewing, and your browser ID and IP address.

I get all of this for every page you visit where such a button or function is present even if you never use it.

. . .

What this means is that you can be tracked specifically and individually, as you personally, with knowledge of who you are, where you are, when you clicked it and exactly what page you looked at, whenever you visit a page that has any such thing on it without your knowledge or consent should any such resource be included in that page.

Again, more at the link.

I highly recommend clicking over to Mr. Denninger's blog and reading both articles in full.  They illustrate how little, if any, online privacy we have these days.  That's why I have one browser set up to block all cookies, block trackers, block advertisements, block Flash and anything else obtrusive, etc.  I use it to visit sites I don't know or don't trust.  If the site won't load because I'm blocking too much, I don't load it.  Why give them free access to track my Web use?  It's none of their business!

(That's also why there are no advertisements on my blog.  I don't know what they'll serve up in the way of cookies, Etags, etc. - so I won't allow them here.)


Good news! The Home is back on the Range!

Fellow blogger, author and friend in meatspace and cyberspace, Brigid, has returned to active blogging.  She has a post up explaining what made her stop for a while.

Brigid's always been one of the more thoughtful and thought-provoking bloggers out there.  She has depths to her, and is able to express them poetically and poignantly.  If you've been a fan of hers in the past, you'll rejoice with me that she's back.  If you haven't read her work before, it's high time you did!

Click over to "Home on the Range" and bookmark it for future reference.


The (very) tangled web in Syria

The convoluted, twisted strands of who's fighting who, who's supporting who, and who's trying to stay relevant in Syria (and with whom) are almost nightmarish in their complexity.  Strategy Page does its best to describe the mess.

Iran, Russia, Turkey, the United States and Israel are all present in Syria along with the Assad government and a considerable number of Syrian rebel groups who are still not united. Everyone has different goals and a different (often constantly shifting) set of allies. Keeping track of who is doing what to whom and why (and for how long) has become increasingly difficult. A current summary of allies, foes, frenemies and chimeras goes like this;

Israel wants to keep Iran out of Syria and Lebanon and avoid a war with Iran. For this Israel has the support of the U.S., Russia and most Gulf Arab states. None of these supporters is willing to provide any military assistance, at least not until Iran actually attacks Israel.

Russia wants to get Turkey out of NATO, to keep the Iranians from starting a war with Israel and make the Americans look bad. At the same time Russia needs to do this on the cheap and make Russia look good, especially to Russians back home. That is proving difficult as most Russians were not enthusiastic about the Syrian operation in the first place and popular support has been declining. Israel sees Russia as being of limited use because of the Russian strategy. Moreover Russia is not as militarily powerful as it pretends to be. Privately the Russians agree with Israel on that and appreciate any help the Israelis can provide in this area.

Turkey wants to create a security zone on the Syrian side of the border that has no Kurds or Islamic terrorists in it. Turkey also wants to show the Sunni Moslem world that it can handle Iranian aggression (without going to war with Iran) and keep the Israelis out of Lebanon and Syria. Turkey is willing to play diplomatic games with Russia and Iran to achieve these goals as well as send troops into Syria to fight, and get killed. Turkey also likes to play (or pretend) tough with Israel. Turkish military experts know better but many Turkish politicians are clueless and that is very dangerous in this part of the world.

The U.S. wants to ensure that ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) does not reestablish itself in Syria. To help with that the American are doing what they can to help the local Kurds maintain autonomy in northeast Syria (east of the Euphrates) where the Kurds have always been dominant. Secondary objectives are keeping Iran, Turley and Russia out of Syria. The U.S. and Israel are allies and any attack on Israel will trigger American intervention on the Israeli side. But short of that the Americans are quite blunt about stating that their troops are in Syria to deal with terrorists, not Iranian preparations for an attack on Israel. The Americans will not stop Kurds in the northeast from going to the aid of Kurds defending Afrin. The Turks asked the Americans to stop the Kurds and the U.S. refused. 

There's more at the link.

The same article has some interesting insights into the internal situation in Israel, Iran and other Middle Eastern nations.  Recommended reading.


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Is Big Brother now in the dentist's office?

I was astonished - and angry - to see this letter posted on Gab.  Click the image for a larger view.

I was absolutely dumbfounded at the thought that any medical practitioner would use the law to threaten its customers.  If it's authentic, this letter appears to represent nothing more or less than legalized extortion.  "Pay us money for services you may not even need, or else!"  However, I don't know if the letter is real or not.  It isn't signed, and there's no return address on the letterhead - both of which I'd expect on that sort of communication.

I looked up Smiles4Keeps online.  It appears to be a dental practice in Pennsylvania, with three offices, and its Web site uses the same logo as that shown above.  There's no indication of which of its three offices may have sent that letter.  Can any readers in or near Bartonsville, Scranton or Wilkes-Barre confirm whether or not this letter is the real thing?  If it is, then the practice needs to hear from a lot of very angry customers - and so do Pennsylvania lawmakers!  If it isn't, then the practice needs to know that someone's spreading disinformation about them.

If you can help clarify the situation, please post in Comments below.  Thanks.


EDITED TO ADD:  OK, it's authentic.  Courtesy of commenter Brigid, we find that the practice posted an explanation - but NOT an apology - on its Facebook page.  Personally, I find their arguments unconvincing and self-serving.  Others may differ.  Suffice it to say, if I'm ever in that vicinity, I'll seek children's dental care from anyone EXCEPT Smiles4Keeps!

Doofus Of The Day #1,002

A tip o' the hat to Wirecutter for spotting this first.  Today's award for Doofidity goes to the gardener responsible.

The fire department's going to spank him (or her) so hard . . .


Apple progress - and a nifty computer gadget

As I mentioned some weeks ago, I've been considering buying an Apple computer system for use with Vellum, a desktop publishing program.  After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing (including the use of an old Apple computer donated for testing purposes by friend and fellow author Cedar Sanderson, for which I'm very grateful to her), I decided to go with a Mac Mini, the cheapest entry level system.  Following reader advice in that first post, I bought a lower-cost Apple-refurbished and -guaranteed computer.  I've been setting it up this week, and I'm enjoying the learning curve.  After so many years (over 4 decades!) using IBM mainframes, DEC minicomputers and PC-architecture personal computers, this is a new departure for me (of which more later).

The Mac Mini comes without keyboard, mouse or monitor, which is why it's relatively low-priced compared to the rest of the Apple range.  Fortunately, I had all those components already.  However, I'm also still using an HP laptop computer, and have other PC-architecture systems in the house.  I don't expect to become an Apple-only or PC-only household anytime soon.  That means there's the potential clutter of multiple keyboards, mice, etc. on an already crowded desktop - not ideal, particularly when I have reference books open, and other things that need space of their own.

I was therefore very pleased to come across this USB switch selector on

It allows you to connect up to 4 USB-interface peripherals to one side of the box.  I've plugged in a corded keyboard and mouse, a laser printer and a scanner.  On the other side of the box are two more USB connector sockets, which you can connect to two different computers.  By pushing the button on top of the selector, you can use all the peripherals with either computer (but not both at the same time).

Using this little box, I now have all four peripherals working happily with both my Mac Mini and my PC-architecture laptop.  All I had to do was make sure that the appropriate device drivers were loaded on each computer for the printer and scanner.  It's very nice to have one of everything, instead of two - not to mention taking up a lot less desktop real estate!  I simply power up the computer I want to use (or both of them), and use the selector button to direct the peripherals to the one that needs them.  I can even swap back and forth between them in mid-use, just by pushing the button.  Very useful indeed.  For mobile computing, I unplug the laptop from the switch selector and go on my way, using its own keyboard and touchpad while on the road.  (I can also use them while it's plugged into the switch selector, of course, which has come in handy a couple of times.)

I'm enjoying learning how to use Apple's operating system and software.  They're reasonably intuitive, so I haven't had any major problems, and there are plenty of articles, tutorials and videos online to provide any help I need.  I'm starting to understand why Apple fans so strongly prefer their systems.  I've heard more than one say that they want to do things with their computer rather than to it, and that's why Apple is "better".  I'm beginning to agree with them.  The Apple OS requires considerably less tinkering to get it where I want it, and it takes care of a lot of stuff behind the scenes that I'm used to doing "manually" under Windows.  I'm impressed.  Also, much of the software I use (LibreOffice, Private Internet Access, Dropbox, Dashlane, etc.) is available in MacOS versions, making the transition easy.  The only one I miss so far is Irfanview, which doesn't have a Mac version.  I'll have to find something similar to replace it on the Apple system.  (GIMP isn't really a suitable replacement - it's a lot more complex and difficult to navigate.  I want something powerful, but simple, without a major learning curve.  I'm a writer, not a graphic artist!)

It's too early to say yet, but I might be tempted in due course to transition entirely to Apple hardware and software, and move away from the PC altogether.  Being my own boss as a writer and not having to run an employer's PC-specific software, I have that flexibility.  I never thought I'd say that (yes, I've joked about Apples and their fanbois for many years, along with the rest of the computer world), but now that I'm actually using an Apple computer, I'm enjoying it very much.  We'll see what the next year or two brings. (I can hear the catcalls now . . . "Come over to the dark side!  We have Apples!")