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Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Steve Cole muses:

Just thinking to himself.

1. The final episode of the Amazing Race was botched, as the only move that mattered was one team (at the very start of the episode) convincing the stewardess on that long China-to-California flight to let them move to the front so they could get out of the airplane faster. From that point, nothing any team did really mattered, and the team with the airline trick stays just that far ahead the whole way. The producers really should hold the teams at the gate until everybody has deplaned, then let them all start at once.

2. Many people do not know that "fail safe" does NOT mean "safe from failure". Nothing is safe from failure. Fail-safe systems "fail in a safe direction". Mostly these are automatic mechanical systems that, when nobody tells them what to do, do what some human sitting at a drafting table years ago decided was the "safest way to go". For example, computer-controlled valves that allow oil into a refinery will "fail closed" if the computer stops talking to them. Best case, the wires got cut and even if the refinery shuts down for a few hours all we lose is money. Worst case, the refinery is on fire, the computer controls (and humans) are out of action, and at least the "fail closed" valves will stop any more burnable stuff from getting into the fire zone.

3. The big problem with running a small business is that the same number of jobs need to be done, and by fewer people. While each job is smaller, you still have people with three or more of the ten or twenty jobs it takes to run a business, and it's hard for anyone to remember all of his jobs all of the time. It's just too easy to ignore the job you don't like, or to let one of the jobs take over all of your time and leave the other jobs undone.

4. Amazon's Kindle book reader allows you to bookmark and highlight passages you want to refer back to. It also tells Amazon what they are, so Amazon's computer can check to see what parts of any given book the readers are highlighting. One wonders what kind of marketing will come out of this? Will authors be told "readers underline this minor character a lot, maybe you should spin him off into his own series of books" or such things?

5. The US Constitution prohibits Bills of Attainder, a term that hasn't been used in this country since the Constitution was written, so nobody knows what they are. (I didn't, but when I heard it and was curious, Google had the answer.) A Bill of Attainder is one issued by the government which says "that guy who was convicted of a major crime is not only going to be executed, but all of his property will go to the government, not to his wife and children." (In Europe, this includes any titles of nobility.) I thought you'd like to know, since it made me curious. It's kinda cool that if a millionaire killed somebody and was caught and executed, his wife and kids would get the family fortune, not the government. The original draft of the US Constitution had a provision that anyone convicted of treason would forfeit his property to the government (except for a minimal amount for his family) but this was deleted before it was signed.

6. I remain worried about Elena Kagan, who has no experience as a judge, lost her only case in front of the Supreme Court, has never argued before the appellate court, wrote one brief for the Supreme Court (which was unanimously rejected as wrong by both liberal and conservative justices), and worked only two years as a real lawyer (the rest of her time being in government service or academia). Her only accomplishment is raising money for Harvard, and while there, she placed her personal agenda ahead of US law. Her paper trail is sparse, but she has written that the President should have more personal control over government actions and agencies.

7. Apparently, our new national policy for counter-terrorism is to assume that the terrorists are morons (so far, that's working) and to take credit for mistakes by terrorists and announce that "the system worked".

8. NATO is creating the new Courageous Restraint Medal for soldiers who risked their lives (or got killed or wounded) because of stupid Rules of Engagement designed to minimize Afghan civilian deaths (rules the Taliban use against them). At least the mothers of these dead soldiers will get a shiny medal to hang on the den wall next to their dead son's photo. The soldiers involved are unimpressed with the idea of getting a medal for avoiding bad press for their political masters.

9. The new health care law includes a virtually unknown tax code provision requiring every business to send in a 1099 form for anyone or any business you pay $600 (during the year, starting in 2012) for any product or service. So, for just our small business, that means issuing about 20-30 a year, for the cleaning crew, Office Depot, the three printing companies that do our color work, that guy who comes to fix our computers when they break, the place we rent the van for the trade show, the trade show for the booth, the place we buy paper, the place we buy toilet paper and other supplies, the place we buy boxes, and so forth. Presumably, that year's accounting package update will include a system to track all of this, since currently we don't, and if we had to collect that data after the fact it would require combing through the entire checkbook and credit card statement.

10. Ok, we all know that teachers' unions oppose spending tax money for private schools because that money goes not for teachers or education but for overpaid bureaucrats who don't do anything but got the job for political patronage, right? Ok, just so we're clear.